Agent calls in police after tenant who passed referencing checks was found to be bogus

Agents are being urged to be on their guard as sub-letting scams appear to be on the rise, with prospective tenants producing bogus documents and managing to pass checks by referencing companies.

One central London agent has called in police after a prospective tenant passed by a referencing company was subsequently found to have produced bogus payslips.

The agent claims that the same tenant went on to be passed by another letting agent’s referencing company, and is now renting a flat with an annual rental of over £50,000 a year.

News of the incident has emerged after the Fair Fees Forum this week called for the accreditation of referencing companies.

The agent in central London said that the prospective tenant had her offer accepted by the landlord and so the agent proceeded with the reference check.

He claims that the referencing firm it uses promptly sent confirmation that this applicant passed their checks.

He said: “In this area we need to be extremely vigilant as sub-letting is really common.

“I had a gut feeling and decided to do additional checks on my own. After googling the name of the applicant I discovered worrying facts.

“I then decided to contact the company where she was apparently employed.

“It was just one phone call and I was connected to HR where a gentleman told me this person was never on the payroll and he never heard of her and payslips are not genuine.

“Therefore we nearly let a £52,000 pa flat to someone who shouldn’t be even considered as a tenant.”

He also alleged that the tenant was passed by a second referencing agency, acting for another agent, and is now renting a property with a rental income of £50,000 a year.

He said: “Something has to be done. We rely on those companies. All the agents should be alerted.”

He added: “We have involved the police as we believe it’s a scam on a large scale.”

Lucy Morton, former ARLA president and director of JLL, said: “Agents should be on their guard, and it is essential that referencing is really thorough.

“There have always been instances where prospective tenants have produced false information for as long as I have been in the business, but sub-letting is definitely on the rise.”

At the Fair Fees Forum meeting this week, agents including Countrywide, Spicerhaart, Winkworth and Connells, together with industry bodies, agreed the need for the accreditation of referencing companies.

The meeting also discussed regulation of the lettings industry, and agreed to write to new housing minister Alok Sharma.

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2 Comments

  1. SimSekhonLFL

    This article highlights a worrying trend of increasing sophistication in subletting scams, and although it points out – rightly – that referencing isn’t infallible, it fails to distinguish between different types of referencing. Some providers offer very basic checks, with rapid answers at a very low price, but this really is an area where you get what you pay for. With these scams so prevalent in our big cities – and high rental value properties a particular target – surely, it’s worth waiting a little extra time for comprehensive checks to be carried out.

    Interestingly, an agent quoted in the article said he was driven by a ‘gut feeling’ to investigate an applicant himself, and we commend him for his vigilance. As an industry, we need to use any and all approaches to spot this type of scam, and suggest that co-operation would be more productive than simply passing the blame.

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  2. Trevor Mealham

    Well done the agent.

    Under Money Laundering agents do not have protection if your referencing company screws up to identify launderers.

    Had they have not raised awareness they could likely have been attributed to assisting in money laundering.

    But the article should go deeper and look at why the sub tenants routed via another on the application.

    Was it:

    * an attempt to launder funds

    * was someone trying to secure a home locally for work etc etc, but knew they would fail checks. For those struggling its not easy.

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