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Don't get caught out: How to protect yourself from landlord scams

It’s a sad fact of life that in any sector where sums of money change hands, there will be unscrupulous individuals looking to take advantage.

What are we talking about?

Scamming, of course.

And in the private rental sector, particularly online, fake landlords are dishonestly defrauding unsuspecting tenants of as much as £1,396 per victim.

That’s £22million in total between 2014 and 2018, according to Action Fraud.

And as the demand and competition for good, or at least what appear to be good, rental properties grows, more and more tenants appear to be falling victim to this kind of crime.

So, what can you do to protect yourself? First, let’s look at some of the most common rental scam in the UK…

Types of rental scam

One of the most common scams on tenants sees fake landlords trick people into paying up front deposit monies – often using a fake property to lure them in via internet sites like Gumtree, Spareroom, Craigslist or online student portals.

The ‘landlord’ uses fake photos of a hugely desirable property and in response to the tenant’s initial enquiry suggests that interest in the property is high and they expect it to be let extremely quickly.

They suggest the tenant secures the property with a deposit and sometimes even a month’s rent up front.

Providing fake bank transfer details for the chosen tenancy deposit scheme, the tenant pays the deposit or month’s rent and then receives what appears to be a bona fide email confirmation from the scheme that the money has been received.

This is, in fact, fake too.

That leaves the devastated tenant to later discover that their money, in fact, went directly to the ‘landlord’ and the property doesn’t even exist.

How to protect yourself from rental scams

When looking to protect yourself from these fake landlords, go into every rental opportunity with a mindset of if it looks too good to be true then it probably is.

Make sure you do the following if you are looking to rent directly from a private landlord:

Don’t hand over any money up front…

…at least before you’ve checked the landlord is genuine and / or viewed the property on offer.

Some fake landlords will even pose as lettings agents – scheming up fake letters has never been easier thanks to Google Images, where almost any lettings agent’s logo and brand look is available to view and copy.

Check the landlord’s credentials

Many fake landlords will use the logos of industry regulatory bodies like the Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA) or National Landlords Association (NLA) on their correspondence in a bid to appear genuine.

If that’s the case, contact the regulatory body and ask for confirmation the landlord is a member.

If they’re not, the alarm bells should be ringing.

If the landlord appears to be operating as a property business then check that business out on Companies House, Google search the landlord’s name and even seek them out on social media channels like Facebook

Put simply, do your due diligence.

View the property

Fake landlords tend to target people who are unlikely to view a property first.

To most, this would sound like madness – handing over money without viewing a property? Surely nobody would do that?

Well, you’d be surprised.

Some tenants are simply desperate to secure somewhere to live and get sucked in by a fake landlord’s sales pitch.

Many can’t view a property as they might be living abroad or in another part of the UK – this is why students are often targeted by these fake landlords.

Others are simply too trusting.

Make sure you always view a property or can arrange for someone you trust to view it on your behalf.

Pay your deposit with a credit card

If you are certain the landlord you are looking to rent from is genuine, have viewed the property and are happy with everything proposed for the tenancy and which scheme your deposit will be lodged with then all must be well, right?

Not always.

And given this is usually the point when you would pay your deposit and potentially a month’s rent up front, can you ever be 100% sure the landlord is completely genuine?

If you are ready to pay your deposit and upfront rent, use a credit card rather than making a bank transfer.

Credit card transactions are protected under the Consumer Credit Act and if you are scammed, there’s a chance you will get your money back.

By using a bank transfer with a fake landlord, your chances of seeing your money again are almost zero, so play it safe if you can.

Once you have paid your deposit, check with the tenancy deposit scheme that it has arrived.

Rent through a trusted lettings agency

While all of the above are great ways to protect yourself against rogue landlords and rental scams, the best way to ensure your money is safe is by renting through a well-known and trusted lettings agency like Martin & Co Chelmsford.

We are registered with ARLA Propertymark and the Property Ombudsman and register all tenant deposits with the Deposit Protection Service – check us out with those regulatory bodies for complete peace of mind.

And if you’re looking for great properties to rent in Chelmsford, contact one of our lettings team to discuss your needs.

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