Renters are at risk from criminals taking advantage of the squeezed property market, an association has warned.
The National Association of Property Buyers says there are increasing cases of scammers placing fake listing adverts on sites such as Facebook and Gumtree that seem identical to ads for genuine properties.
The fraudsters change the contact details and, when contacted, pretend to be the landlord. But after securing a deposit, they usually disappear.
Figures from Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre, show there were 5,751 reports of rental scams last year, a 23 per cent rise on 2021. Total losses were £9.4 million, about £1,600 per victim and there were 541 cases last month alone.
Issuing the warning, Jonathan Rolande, from the National Association of Property Buyers, said : “Right now we are seeing a shortage of good, affordable rental property. And whenever there is a shortage of something it creates desperation, meaning fraudsters will not be far away.
“With up to 20 applicants for every rental home, tenants find themselves at the very sharpest end of the housing crisis. Those that don’t tick all the right boxes for landlords and letting agents – receiving benefits, pets, adverse credit history, children – will find themselves the most vulnerable.
“Those that can least afford to lose money are ironically the most likely to do so as they desperately seek out a new home away from the regulated sector, relying on personal contacts, Facebook and Gumtree.
Outlining the most common tricks being used to try and con people Rolande continued:
“Fake links are a big thing. Even if they look like a real site never use a link that is sent to you by text or Whatsapp.
“Some people ask for a deposit to view. Never pay anything to view a property. Ever!
“Another common trick is for people trying to let a property they don’t own. If you’re not using a genuine letting agent, you’ll need to check that the person letting the home is entitled to do so – remember, they could be a tenant themselves.
“And, also, many crooks try to let the same property to numerous tenants. Beware of somebody promising the same property to more than one applicant.”
To protect themselves he advises tenants to:
Check for genuine landlords: It’s important to verify the legitimacy of the landlord. Using services like Land Registry or Companies House can help you confirm the details of a landlord and ensure you’re dealing with a genuine individual.
Beware of unrealistic prices: Scammers often lure victims with unrealistically low rental prices. If a deal seems too good to be true, it’s wise to be cautious and investigate further.
Avoid pressure tactics: Scammers might use high-pressure tactics to rush you into making decisions without thinking. Take your time to verify the property and the landlord’s legitimacy before committing.
Reverse image search: Running a reverse image search on property photos can help you determine if the images are stolen from other legitimate listings. This can be a useful way to identify potential scams.
Keep conversations on platform: Keeping your communication on the platform where you found the listing can provide an extra layer of security. Scammers might try to move you to other platforms like Whatsapp where they can exploit you more easily.
Avoid clicking suspicious links: Clicking on links provided by potential scammers can lead to phishing attempts or malware infections. Always verify the legitimacy of links before clicking on them.
Rolande added: “These guidelines can be highly effective in protecting individuals from rental scams but they aren’t foolproof. It’s always better to be cautious and thorough in your research before making any financial commitments or sharing personal information and if you can, use a legitimate letting agent to rent your next home.”
“The problem is being driven by a shortage of rental properties and tenants are having to act quickly to avoid bidding wars. The average monthly rent rose to an all-time high of £1,273 in June, a third higher than the £951 in June 2021. There were almost 66,000 rental properties listed on Gumtree, the online classifieds advertising site, between January and June. These had more than a million replies.”