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.
The Spareroom.com scam
One scam targets 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 tenants to make a payment directly to us.
Tenants should only ever make a deposit payment to the letting agency or landlord, and we advise that wherever possible they inspect the property/room in person before doing so. They should also always receive 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 tenants’ 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, tenants can check if the 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. Tenants can also check if the agent or landlord operates a client money protection scheme. The Safeagent mark is an industry accreditation that shows an agent uses client money protection, which can also give tenants additional reassurance about the organization or person they’re dealing with.
Staying safe online
Here’s a few other tips for tenants and landlords alike:
- 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 and we’ll let you know if it’s genuine.
Tenants beware of property fraud on online letting sites
Tenants should also be 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 – they 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 they 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:
- Receipt rip off – scammers ask tenants to prove they can afford the deposit by wiring the money to a friend, then producing the receipt.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.