An Australian back-packer has fallen victim to a sub-letting scam where the ‘landlord’ pretended to be the agent, giving the name of a firm which sounded authentic.
The fake agent is now said to have been charged with over 28 fraud offences.
Steven Vlamis, 32, saved hard to fulfil his dream to come and live in London for a year, and found a flat for sharers advertised on SpareRoom.
It was listed for rent by the landlord, with no additional fees, and Vlamis arranged a viewing.
When he went to see the property, he was met by a woman who introduced herself as Sophie Stewart and who said she was an agent, not the landlord.
Vlamis was surprised to find the flat unfurnished and missing an oven, but was assured the flat would be ready by the time he moved in that weekend.
He paid a deposit of £1,000 and agreed a weekly rent of £176, paying three months’ rent in advance.
Vlamis did not think anything was strange because she emailed him the lease and breakdown of payments from a place of work, ‘Sinclairs’.
However, when he moved in, he found that the flat was still unfurnished and there was still no oven.
For a month he went backwards and forwards with Sophie Stewart who eventually arranged for someone to install an oven. She told Vlamis not to speak to the installer.
When the man arrived, he introduced himself as the owner of the property.
Vlamis asked him about Sophie Stewart, and was told that she was renting the property from the owner’s son.
Vlamis then found that Sophie Stewart was renting the property for employees at a business that did not exist.
The amount she was paying in rent was far lower than what Vlamis and his flatmates were being charged by her.
Vlamis and his flatmates reported her to the police.
Vlamis said: “I don’t trust anyone any more. I have this constant feeling they are out to take advantage of me.
SpareRoom told 9News that it moderates every advert and in this instance the advert appeared legitimate.
SpareRoom said: “The person in question had the full consent of the landlord to manage the property but didn’t hand over any of the tenants’ rent to the landlord.”
Foreigners coming to live in London are warned by travel advice sites to watch out for scams. Insider Guides warns them not to rely on phone numbers, emails or websites to verify an estate agency business, as they can be easily faked.
There are agents with ‘Sinclairs’ in their name, but there is no suggestion that any have any connection to what is alleged to have happened in this case.
However, EYE has recently carried other stories about what appears to be a big rise in sub-letting scams in London and elsewhere, and Property Tribes has warned that there are a number of ‘training courses’ where techniques are ‘taught’.