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Top tips: how vulnerable house hunters can avoid scams

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Top tips: how vulnerable house hunters can avoid scams

UK government data has revealed that 1 in 17 adults were victims of fraud in the year ending September 2023…

The national housing shortage is driving fraudulent activity in the rental market. With this in mind, experts at Scams.info have pulled together their greatest tips on how to identify and avoid rental scams, and what to do if you fall victim.

As Brits compete to find a property – with viewings rising to 25 per listing – many are foregoing estate agents in favour of online social media groups advertising a property to rent. These Facebook groups are becoming increasingly popular for example London has over 210,000 members, Manchester has over 33,000 and Glasgow has over 23,000. But when desperate people opt for a quick turnaround and seemingly low rent, over security and legality, they may find themselves victims of the rising phenomena of rental fraud.

1. How to spot a rental scam

With rent rising for the fifteen consecutive quarter and the average number of tenants competing to view each property rising to 25 in Britain[2], there is understandably a sense of urgency when searching for properties.

However, it’s important to remain level-headed, and remember some key scam indicators:

  • Typos: If the advert is full of errors and missing information, be cautious. Likewise, over-usage of capitals and emojis may be being employed to distract you.
  • The seller tries to prevent you from viewing: You should never rent a property you haven’t seen, but this can be a particular red flag if the landlord tries to get you to pay the deposit without viewing first, to ‘secure’ the property.
  • Payment is rushed by the seller: Do not transfer money if you feel rushed to do so; scammers will use your sense of urgency to push you to ‘reserve’ the property.
  • Landlords do not run tenant checks: Be wary of landlords who don’t use a tenant screening process – it’s not a good sign if they are unconcerned by your own legitimacy.
  • The property seems too good to be true: Scammers will list properties at below-market prices in order to coerce renters into rushing into signing.

2. How to avoid them

If you have done your due diligence and wish to proceed, there are certain measures you can take for extra assurance:

  • Confirm property ownership: Confirm the landlord is the legal owner of the property using the Land Registry Database.
  • Make secure payments: Always pay any deposit via credit card, as your provider is legally bound to protect you on purchases over £100.
  • Ensure your deposit is in a TDS: By law, all UK landlords must place your deposit into a registered tenancy deposit protection scheme (TDS). Ask your potential landlord for details of which of these they use, and verify they are accurate.
  • Request copies of contracts: Ensure you have a copy of the signed tenancy agreement. Many landlords use online signing tools for ease, however the link to these usually expires after signing – ask the landlord or letting agent for a copy of the contract so you are protected in the future.
  • Vet listings on social media: Scammers use stolen photos for their listings in social media groups and on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace. To avoid being duped, you can use tools such as Google Lens to reverse image search any pictures in the ad – this way you can determine if they are authentic, or if they have been taken from elsewhere on the internet.

Nicholas Crouch at Scams.info:

“Unfortunately, if it seems too good to be true, it likely is. Be wary of listings in unregulated social media groups – always vet photographs to confirm authenticity and be sure to compare prices to the market rate in the area for similar rooms/properties. If the property is drastically cheaper, it may be a scam.”

3. What should you do if you find out you’ve been scammed?

It is understandably upsetting to find out you have been a victim of rental fraud, but try to remain calm, as there are actions you can take.

First and foremost, inform your bank that you believe you have been a victim of fraud. Try to provide them with as many details as possible, as well as copies of any communication you have had with the scammer. Even if you haven’t paid via credit card (which automatically protects you over £100) your bank is likely to have some sort of protection system in place, and you may be able to get your money back.

If you saw the listing online, you should report the scam to the website so that the advert can be removed, and the fraudster banned. You should also report the crime to Action Fraud, the national fraud and cyber crime agency.

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