Renters should be on their guard against fraudsters using Covid-19 as a cover to swindle people out of their hard-earned cash. Rental fraud is not a new scam – Action Fraud, the UK’s reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, has been warning about it for years. However, we’re concerned that the increase in property activity being carried out online due to the pandemic could leave renters more vulnerable to this kind of ruse. Just last week, we heard of an attempt at online rental fraud and it’s clear the scammers are out there, doing their best to rip people off.
What is rental fraud?
Imagine this: you’re searching for a new place to live and a property advertised on social media catches your eye. It looks perfect, and the price is right. Stroke of luck! So, you make contact to arrange a viewing. Great news, the property is available – but there’s an issue: you can’t view it in person.
You may be told you can’t visit because:
– The ‘owner’ is out of the country due to work/personal issues/Covid-19. (They may even throw in a sly dig at Priti Patel’s quarantine rules to seem personable.)
– The ‘owner’ is unwell or isolating due to Covid-19.
At this point, alarm bells should ring. What usually comes next is a request that you pay a deposit ASAP to secure the property. The ‘owner’ may suggest that you meet a ‘friend’ of theirs to exchange a cash deposit for the keys, or they may ask you to make an electronic transfer. No matter how plausible the story seems, don’t hand over a penny. If you do, we can pretty much guarantee you will never hear from the ‘owner’ again, never step inside the property you saw advertised (the pictures were probably ripped off from another rental advert), and never get your money back.
Never agree to rent a property through a website or social media.
Never pay a deposit to rent a property you have not viewed in person. You must visit the property and ensure it is a genuine let. You need to be happy with the property and the terms and conditions of the letting.
Never pay to view a property. Agencies and landlords never charge for viewings.
Never hand over cash – it’s untraceable and can be used immediately.
Never transfer funds via Western Union, Moneybookers or other electronic fund transfer services to someone claiming to be an agent or landlord.
Always establish that the property exists and that it is available for rent.
Always check the landlord/agent’s identity, and that he/she is authorised to rent the property.
Always do your research. Look online to see if the property is on any other rental platform. If it is with a letting agency, call them and clarify the details. If you want the property and it is with an agency, then go through them.
Always trust your instincts. If you’re unsure, walk away.
Always report scammers to the authorities.
From all of us here at Newton Fallowell, please stay safe and be vigilant online.