Due to the increase in demand for rental properties over the last few years, prospective tenants are increasingly becoming victims of online fraudsters. Those looking for property in the capital are particularly targeted as they are often looking for somewhere to live from overseas. Police forces report a 44% increase in this type of fraud last year with 3,200 house hunters contacting the police, many other organisations believe this figure to be much higher though, as many people don’t report the incident out of embarrassment. The Local Government Association suggests this represents just 5 per cent of victims.
Free to advertise platforms like GumTree are easy for the criminal to use. Ads are free to place and all that is requires is a registered email address for verification purposes. The fraudsters often list properties with photos taken from another website, giving the ad an air of authenticity. The interested party is then instructed to ‘secure the property’ by transferring an upfront deposit before they are invited to view the property. The property, of course, does not exist and victim is left with seriously out of pocket with no accommodation.
Rental scams can be very sophisticated, according to property website Rightmove, even down to seemingly authentic documents being created for the purpose. One particular scam involved the tenants being sent a personalised tenant verification request and instructed to pay one month’s rent and a security deposit of £1,200 to Rightmove PLC. The tenant was told that Rightmove would hold the money until the contract was signed, or it would be refunded in full if the tenant changed its mind.
The House Shop Co-founder Nick Marr told the Daily Telegraph: “Scammers have become highly sophisticated and it isn’t always easy to spot fake or misleading ads – even manually reviewing adverts can still allow some bogus ads to slip through the net.”
One way to make sure you are dealing with genuine landlords, is to use a property specialist like Northwood UK. Not only will their local knowledge and expertise make any property search quicker and easier, you will also have the peace of mind that you are dealing with genuine landlords!