Rental fraud is on the increase and is now so common that a recent survey estimated that a staggering 25% of Craigslist rental listings are actually frauds!
What is rental fraud?
Rental fraud happens when scammers advertise a property that does not exist or has already been rented out. Many scammers use the same property details to scam multiple victims at the same time.
The victims are charged an upfront deposit and fees and many only find out that they’ve been scammed when they turn up with a removal van, ready to move in.
At this time of year, university students are particularly vulnerable to fraudsters, as many live a long way away or even abroad and can’t view the property in person to verify its existence.
Many property images and details are copied from legitimate estate agents websites. A quick and simple way to see if an advertised property has been advertised elsewhere is to right-click the images and select “Search Google for image”.
Legitimate landlords will be happy to arrange a property viewing. If the advertiser is reluctant or makes excuses why you can’t view a property, this should set off warning bells straight away.
Never send advanced payment! Money shouldn’t change hands until a tenancy agreement is signed.
Some scammers are harder to spot.
They could have obtained access to a property while the owners are away or a house is empty. They could even be renting it themselves from Airbnb or similar.
In this instance, scammers often press victims for immediate payment of a deposit and upfront rent to “secure the tenancy”.
They will also be happy to accept payment without doing any background, financial and legally required checks like ‘Right to Rent’.
How to protect yourself from rental fraud:
- Never send money to anyone advertising rental properties online until you have verified that the advertiser and property is legitimate.
- Talk to your university as most have a prefered list of student accommodation providers.
- By law, tenant deposits must be registered with a tenant deposit scheme (TDS) so ask for details of where yours will be registered.
- If you are overseas or too far away to visit a property, ask someone you trust to view it for you.
- Do not make any payment until your contact has visited the property and you have received a tenancy agreement.
- Ask for copies of safety certificates and HMO licences.
- Use a reputable letting agent who is fully accredited and licenced.
- Do not be pressurised. A legitimate landlord will want to do things correctly.
- If a landlord does not want to carry out ‘right to rent’ checks, they are breaking the law already, so walk away.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak to neighbours about the property if you get the opportunity.
Tenants are often keen to rent through private landlords, in order to avoid letting agent fees but look at it as an insurance premium.
You know you will have a property at the end of the day and both you and your money are protected by industry regulations and laws.
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