Scammers advertising other people’s homes for rent online are subsequently cheating victims out of fraudulent deposits and rental fees; this is the warning of numerous estate agents in the UK who have noticed a surge in the number of fraudulent listings appearing online.
The scam is being fuelled by the growing popularity of virtual viewings which have become the norm for prospective tenants across the country; people are signing contracts and paying deposits without ever visiting the respective property in person.
Consequently, fake adverts for rental properties are appearing online that are convincingly copied from reputable websites. Typically listed on online marketplaces like Gumtree, the listings appear to be genuine and are practically indistinguishable from the real thing.
Prospective tenants are taken through the process in the normal way, exchanging messages with the lettings agent and viewing the property online. But when the deposit and other arrangement fees have been paid, the lettings agent and listing disappear.
Some of those who are victim to the con only discovered that they had been scammed on the day they attempted to move into the property. At which point, they found that the property was either already occupied or was being advertised for sale/rent by a different agent.
Estate agents have warned that the problem is becoming more widespread all the time and have urged local and national authorities to take action.
How to Avoid Falling Victim to Online Rental Scams
In the meantime, experts are advising prospective tenants to be on the lookout for the signs of online rental scams. The listings published by fraudsters can be surprisingly convincing, though can be distinguished from real listings upon careful inspection.
These are the most important warning signs to be on the lookout for when browsing rental listings online:
- Free listings on sites like Gumtree should always be scrutinised and approached with caution. While there are many legitimate listings on sites like these, they are also where most fraudulent listings appear.
- Where there are multiple listings for the same property – often with slight discrepancies from one to the next – this is a red flag of fraudulent activity.
- A clear lack of professionalism in a listing is also indicative of a potential scam. Poorly worded ads with typos and bad grammar would not be published by a professional lettings agent.
- Impossibly low prices for premium properties in desirable areas are another common warning sign. Where a listing for a property seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
- A reputable lettings agent will never ask for any kind of upfront payment before the property has been viewed. Where money is requested up front, always decline.
- Pushy landlords and those who are reluctant to arrange in-person viewings of a property should also be avoided at all costs – irrespective of how convincing they may be.
Thankfully, the vast majority of online rental property listings are genuine – even on free ad sites like Gumtree. Nevertheless, it is important to know how to draw distinctions between a legitimate listing and an attempt to defraud you out of your money.