Beware of fraudsters targeting tenants
Con artists and fraudsters are constantly changing their tactics. This is why we continually monitor the use of our service, as from time to time tenants can sadly find themselves a target.
We’ve identified a new scam which is targeting tenants using websites such as spareroom.com.
Here’s how it works:
› The fraudster advertises a fake property or room – often at quite a cheap rental rate to attract interest
› To secure the rental, prospective tenants are told to make a deposit payment to The DPS using a set of bank account details that actually belong to the fraudster
How to spot the scam
First and foremost, we will never ask you to make a payment directly to us.
You should only ever make a deposit payment to the letting agency or landlord, and we advise that wherever possible you inspect the property/room in person before doing so. Always obtain a receipt.
In many scams, communication is conducted via email. Tell-tale signs will be bad spelling or grammar and overly informal language (e.g. “finish the deal”). They may also try to make you feel under pressure to do what they want, and will sometimes ask you to confirm information that they should already have.
Protecting your money
Fortunately fraudulent landlords and letting agents are a minority in our industry. The majority are genuine and treat their tenants fairly. For further peace of mind, it’s also worth checking if your landlord or agent is a member of an industry body such as the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), the National Landlords Scheme (NLA). the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), or the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS). Membership of these schemes indicates that a letting agent/landlord is genuine and committed to improving standards in the private rented sector. If you’re dealing with a letting agent, you can also check if they operate a client money protection scheme. The Safe Agent mark is an industry accreditation that shows an agent uses client money protection, which can also give you additional reassurance about the organization or person you’re dealing with.
Staying safe online
Here’s a few other tips:
› Keep your passwords secret
› Where possible, use passwords that include numbers, capital letters, lower case letters and symbols to make them more secure
› Don’t write passwords down or save them in your phone
› Take a good look at emails before clicking on any link – if it looks fake, or the offer sounds too good to be true, then think twice
If you’re still not sure if an email has come from us, please forward it to us here and we’ll let you know if it’s genuine.
Tenants beware of property fraud on online letting sites
We also wanted to make you aware of several online property scams that we’ve come across, which demand tenants pay deposits up front, online. Fake posts, on sites such as Gumtree, are asking consumers to prove that they can pay the required deposit by sending money to a friend or relative using a money transfer agent. The tenant is then compelled to send a scanned copy of the transaction receipt to the bogus landlord as ‘proof’ of fund availability. But unfortunately, this receipt contains enough information for the scammers to collect the money before the intended recipient can.
These fake adverts are quickly spotted and removed from the online sites but unfortunately some still fall foul of the scammers and it’s vital that prospective tenants find out whether the landlord is registered with an approved tenancy deposit protection scheme, like The DPS. Tenants should then also check whether their deposit has been protected or not – you can do that by calling the tenancy deposit protection scheme directly.
Tenants should only transfer money to reputable landlords who can prove they are registered with an approved tenancy deposit scheme so it is important that you double check – ideally they should meet the landlord first and view the property before handing over any cash.
In an ever expanding rental market it’s really important to raise awareness and help tenants protect themselves against the key issues*, which Shelter identify as:
1. Receipt rip off – scammers ask tenants to prove they can afford the deposit by wiring the money to a friend, then producing the receipt (read more about this in last week’s blog, ‘Tenants beware of property fraud on online letting sites’)
2. Alternative deposits – instead of deposits, tenants may be asked to pay additional rent which will be returned at the end of the tenancy, providing there isn’t any damage. This money is still classed as a deposit and should be protected.
3. Let and run – fake landlords break into empty properties and rent them as their own. Once the tenants hand over deposit and rent money, the ‘landlords’ disappear.
4. Duped into debt - Rogue landlords may charge large amounts for hidden costs, such as fees for a tenancy inspection, and then ‘conveniently’ forget to tell tenants about it.
5. Unprotected deposits – it’s a legal requirement but some landlords will still avoid putting tenants’ deposits in a tenancy deposit scheme, leaving the tenant vulnerable.
*For more on the key issues, visit Shelter’s website.
It’s amazing that, despite being in its fourth year, one in four landlords and 20% of tenants have never even heard of deposit protection legislation. We got in tocuh with Shelter to find out a little bit more. In 2009, they spoke to over 3,000 tenants about problems relating to tenancy deposits; in 77% of these cases the deposit was unprotected, or they had not received documentation to show that it was protected in spite of it being a legal requirement to protect a deposit; any landlord that doesn’t do so is liable for a fine of three times the deposit value.
Shelter stressed how important it is that anyone who is about to rent finds out as much as they can about their responsibilities as a tenant, and those of the landlord. They have advice on their website and you can also find information on the DCLG website, and in The DPS’s Tenant’s Guide.
The first thing tenants should do, before handing over any money, is check that their future landlord is registered with a tenancy deposit protection scheme, like The DPS. Here are some other things that tenants should do before entering into a tenancy agreement with a landlord:
› View the property and meet the landlord
› Check the landlord uses a government-approved Tenancy Deposit Protection provider
› Ensure that there is an inventory and schedule of condition report
› Inventory should contain photos (signed and dated, if possible)
› Ensure that the inventory has been signed by both parties; if possible the tenant should be present at the check-in and check-out
Have you got a story you’d like to share? Drop us a message, or let Shelter know.