Last Update, July 26th, 2016. Unfortunately con-artists prey on people looking to rent houses, flats and rooms. Serviced apartments, short lets and long lets are all targeted by tricksters trying to con money out of unsuspecting people. Most scammers will try and get a ‘holding fee’, ‘admin fees’, a deposit or first months rent out of you – then disappear. Most times the property advertised does not exist, or does not belong to the person placing the ad. Sometimes they even show you a property, pretending it is theirs to rent out, when it isn’t. Don’t be put off – the majority of adverts are real! Arm yourself with our tips below and guard against the idiots out there:
Let’s face it, con-artists love to use the ‘free’ listing sites like Craigslist, Gumtree and so on. They can list for free, give very few details, nobody is running checks on them and the audience of potential renters is wide enough to capture people who are trusting and don’t do the right checks. This is still a small number compared to all the legitimate adverts, just be more vigilant on these sites. Yes there can be fake ads on property portals like Rightmove or FindaProperty, because really good con-artists will goto the greatest lengths – it’s just less likely.
Look out for these tell-tale signs:
Have you noticed another advert for the same property, using different language or pictures? Does the same phone number, email address or contact name appear in different adverts?
Does the rental description sound poorly worded, perhaps there are incorrect spellings? Many scammers are based outside the UK and do not speak or write fluent English.
Is the owner trying to appear respectable, for example saying you should contact Dr. Smith? They could be trying to gain your confidence by appearing to be in a position of authority.
Letting Agents advertising properties offer much more protection – they will vet Landlords, check the properties are real, be aware of ‘scams’ or tricks and if something goes wrong you have someone in a physical location to see and take legal action against. Just make sure that the Letting Agent has been around for a few years, and is a member of ARLA – the Association of Residential Letting Agents. Check their Letting Agent Directory which lists members – a fake agent trying to appear real may put the ARLA sign on their website – always check.
Sometimes fake Letting Agencies are set up on the internet, so avoid an agency which doesn’t have a physical shop you can visit, or offices (although it’s easy to rent offices for a week or two to look credible while working a scam, it’s not easy to set up a shop front).
Even when a Letting Agent is approved, you can’t protect against individuals being dishonest, so never completely trust anyone – always check everything you can, yourself.
Common to most scams is a property that is being offered at what seems a very good, even cheap, price. To lure the most people to respond to an advert, con-artists use the oldest seduction technique: give people a price that is too good to be true. If the price of an advertised property seems less than similar properties in the area (especially if it’s more than 15% cheaper), be Very Cautious.
Of course when people are desperate – need to move quick, are short of money or stressed, they are more susceptible to scams – if you feel desperate, double check everything and don’t trust anyone at face value.
Do property pictures on the advert differ from the property you are shown? Often tricksters advertise a home using pictures copied from the internet, then take you to view a property they do not own. As they need to run lots of different ads, they may use different copied pictures then take everyone to see a property they can only get access to for a short time, to build the belief they genuinely have a property to rent. Don’t accept any excuse for pictures being different from the property – just walk away.
How about if photos of the property look unnatural or strange? Many scammers take photos from magazines and scan them onto computer, or copy images from websites advertising furniture or interior design – if it looks too glossy, make sure you check out the property in person.
Weak Contact Details
Mobile number only? Ask for a landline and ring back on that. Free email account address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, gmail.com or yahoo.co.uk? Ask if they have a business email address, to prove they are legitimate (alot of private landlords have regular jobs too). Should you go ahead with the property, ask for the landlords address before handing over any money – if they are genuine they know you will need this. Google the address – there are many reverse enquiry websites that tell you who lives where.
Check the NLA website here, for private landlord listings, to ensure they are genuine.
Does the landlord or agent want money upfront, a holding deposit ‘because he has been messed around by other viewers’ or some other excuse? Never pay anything upfront…ever! The only time you pay anything before signing a contract is admin charges related to reference checks and credit checks, and you should check the prices of those with the agencies conducting them (to ensure you are not being ripped off).
Never pay for this until you have viewed the property twice, agreed to a rental price and feel sure the landlord or agent is real. Even better, tell the landlord the agency running the checks should contact you directly for payment (paying an agent instead of a landlord, avoids someone fake running off with your money). If they agree to this then when the agency calls, take a number and say you will call back in 10 minutes – then Google the reference agencies name and phone number to ensure they are legit.
Scammers mostly try and take money off you upfront, before a viewing (which will never happen). Just don’t do this under any circumstance – a genuine landlord or agent would never ask of this.
Lots of Email or Phone communication
Fake landlords build up your trust by engaging in lots of emails or phone calls, to ‘sell’ you the property (without viewing it) and get you hooked. Once they think they have convinced you they will ask for money: usually via money transfer – this is a scam! Sometimes they want personal details upfront including your address and bank details – never give them these, they are trying to commit identity fraud by passing themselves off as you.
Google the Landlord, Agent and Property
Searching the net for the landlords name, phone number, the landlords own address (always ask for this) aswell as the property address can turn up discrepancies. You might find the property listed somewhere else by the genuine letting agent or landlord (scammers love to copy details). If a letting agent has been found to be involved in scams before, you may find references to this – if in doubt, move on!
No Viewings Allowed
By far the biggest way con-artists succeed is by taking money from people before showing them the property. No matter how elaborate the excuse (we’re redecorating/ removing asbestos/ landlord is out of the country), Never rent a property that you are not allowed to view at least twice. Some of the excuses we hear often (to avoid letting you see a property) are:
Landlord lives abroad and doesn’t have anyone to show you, but will post you the keys once you’ve paid a deposit (they will use fake pictures)
Property undergoing refurbishment – sometimes they give you the address of a real property being refurbished, so if you go to see the outside,it looks genuine – this is a scam, even if they walk you to the outside of the property themselves!
Asbestos, or some other dangerous material is being removed from the property, so nobody can see it at the moment.
Current tenant won’t allow viewings as they ‘work from home/ work funny hours/ have relatives staying.’
Sometimes the fake Landlord will give you contact details for someone they claim can vouch for the property (often they pretend it’s the current tenant) – never trust anyone like this.
If you live outside London, even abroad you must either make time to view, have someone view for you (a new colleague or friend) or stay in a hotel, hostel or serviced apartment to give you time to conduct viewings – if you are open to different areas, there always be a selection of long term lets that are vacant and ready to move into quickly.
When dealing with private landlords, ask them to show ID such as driving licence and a utility bill (both have addresses on them), perhaps on your second viewing to ‘establish they are genuine.’ Of course check the picture matches, and check the address matches the one they have given you as their home address.
Always pay by credit card where you can, as you will have some protection from the card company. Especially for reference checks and credit checks (Landlords often have you pay, in case you fail the checks) – tell the landlord to get those companies to contact you and you will pay them directly by credit card. A landlord may not take cards, but agencies can.
Never pay by money transfer (Western Union etc.) – scammers love these services as it’s easy to get the money out of the country where it’s hard to get back.
Never pay Cash – ever!
Landlords are required to put your deposit in a Government backed tenancy deposit scheme, to ensure peace of mind in having your deposit returned, if you have paid bills on-time, kept the property in good condition and met any terms in the tenancy contract. Following the tenancy ending, Landlords must return the deposit monies within 10days. To find out what questions are best to ask, to ensure your deposit is protected, we’d recommend looking at: https://www.gov.uk/tenancy-deposit-protection/overview