An estate and letting agency has warned that online fraudsters are targeting would-be tenants by posing as private landlords offering properties already on the market at reduced rates.
The fraudsters are then asking those interested in the properties to pay deposits upfront.
Mayfair Town & Country, based in Weston-super-Mare, raised the alarm after it was alerted to a fraudulent advert posted on Facebook this week.
The advert came to the agency’s attention via a member of the public who contacted its Worle office.
The individual was enquiring about the property after old Mayfair-branded sales particulars were provided by the advertiser upon the request of further details.
Photos listed on the advert had been extracted from the letting agent’s website, and the advertiser, who claimed to be the owner, was offering a reduced monthly rental rate in exchange for a deposit upfront.
The advertiser, posing as the landlord, explained they lived a distance from the property and that they would post keys to the tenant once their deposit had been received in full.
Mayfair Town & Country staff have contacted the real landlord, who is currently marketing this property for let via the agency’s Worle office, who has no knowledge of the advertiser and has not instructed anyone else to market their property.
A representative from Mayfair Town & Country has since contacted a number of people on Facebook who had publicly responded to the advert.
No-one is thought to have paid any money to the individual advertising the property so far.
The agency said it has also received information to show that another agent in Weston-super-Mare has been targeted in the same way, by an individual with a different name.
It does not know if it is the work of the same person, or if the would-be fraudsters are operating in a group.
David Powell, operations director at Mayfair Town & Country, said: “As much as we understand that tenants approach landlords directly to avoid associated agency fees, we advise them to tread carefully.
“Unfortunately we are unable to control the use of photos and information which is publicly available on our website, which makes this type of crime worryingly easy if targeting vulnerable tenants.
“A benefit of going through an agent when renting is that tenants are provided with an element of protection, which means their deposit is protected and scenarios like this can be avoided.
“Our advice would be to be vigilant, and to contact your local agent for advice if you have any concerns.
“We have a member of ARLA in all of our lettings offices who will be happy to help with any queries.”
The news came in the same week that Telford & Wrekin Council issued a warning to consumers about scammers posing as property agents.
In what sounds like a very similar scam, it cautioned that fraudsters have been taking details of genuine properties that are available on estate agency websites and then, using Facebook messenger, offering to rent them out, even though they don’t own them.
Potential customers are then asked to pay a deposit for a home they are unable to move into or even view.