Uncovering Property Scams: Launching Our Series

Numerous tenants, landlords and even letting agents fall prey to property scams in the UK.

Most of these property scams will occur through free classifieds websites (Gumtree, Craigslist, Loot) without adequate landlord or tenant verification service. But they can also infiltrate large property listing or holiday rental sites.

Nowadays, some of the most common scams capitalise on the property shortage in London and elsewhere, and offer tenants something which, considering the current market conditions, is generally too good to be true. For instance, a rental property way below the market price,  or one which the tenant can rent without having undergone proper verification. Conmen also realise that a city like London attracts numerous renters from abroad, often desperately looking for a property in London and struggling due to their lack of UK credit history. This represents an ideal target for property scams.

We are launching our weekly series on rental property scams, and will dedicate one post every week to scams experienced by tenants, landlords, or anybody else involved in a  property transaction. We will also, occasionally, look for current  ads on the internet which appear suspicious  and post them here to raise awareness.

Have you come across a property scam recently? Then send it to us. Or send us photos and a report of an awful property you have just seen or even had to live in.

This week’s scam under review: fake property listings 

Probably one of the most common property scams is the fake property listing on a classified site. Somebody will advertise a property which often looks too good to be true, with photos not corresponding to what you could expect for the advertised rent level. At the same time, the description will often be short and poorly written.

Fake property listings often have the following features:

  1. Price (of whatever is offered) is too low and sounds too good to be true
  2. Photos look too styled and professional (they might be stock photos) or, on the other hand, of very poor quality. There might also be no photo at all.
  3. Advertiser contact details look suspicious – limited information, just a mobile number, a free (gmail, yahoo, hotmail) email address, or a name starting with a “Dr” or “Prof” (Dr Peters, Prof. Saunders), which will attempt to give the landlord credibility and to elevate their status.

Once the often unsuspecting tenant contacts the landlord, they will be asked to wire an advance fee even before seeing the property.  A typical example is this response from a bogus landlord to a tenant’s enquiry, found on Scamwarners::

“it is unfortunate that my past bitter experience of inviting people to come and view my flat without any form of confirmation of their financial ability and not keeping up to time as at when scheduled, has brought about great loss to me. I have traveled all the way from Ireland to take some interested candidates round my house because that’s where i work with (P. Elliott & Company).

Some outside tenants do not have the money to pay the rent and yet they disturb the the landlord to arrange a viewing with their friend or relative who are in Newcastle,also some do not meet up with the appointments which has led to the dismissal of some landlords in office by there employees.

Henceforth my lawyer and i have decided to carry out a simple test on financial ability to send the deposit and at list a month rent to a friend before coming for viewing or before making a reservation for any interested candidate. I would not ask you to send your bank statement neither your pay slip because it will be inappropriate for me to collect any money from you neither my lawyer. At least 1 month rent and security deposit which is £ 500 which is refundable after your first week stay in my flat, would be required from you to transfer through the Money gram post office.”

Advance fee, attempt to gain credibility (employer name sounds credible and respectable), mention of their lawyer, but at the same time written in very poor English. All the ingredients of a classic property scam.

Needless to say, an ad like this should not only be discarded, but reported to the listing website immediately. If the tenant still has doubts and wants to find out more about the landlord, they should take the following measures:

  • Ask to see a copy of the landlord’s ID.
  • Google search the landlord’s name. Be sure to add quotes around their name. You could add the words “fraud” or “scam” at the end of your search terms.
  • Use a reverse directory look up if the person has given you their telephone number. It’s important to double check that they are who they say they are.
  • Check the Land Registry about property ownership for the apartment in question. Who really owns it? Is it the person you’re dealing with? Or someone else?
  • Scan any provided photographs carefully. Do they match up with what you’ve seen in person? Do they look like they all came from the same place?
  • The landlord should agree to a viewing without taking  an advance payment from you.
  • If the landlord doesn’t ask you to fill in a proper rental application form, it will also be suspicious.

These steps are particularly important as most classifieds or property listings websites will not provide any guarantee for the authenticity of their ads. It is therefore easy for tenants to get lured into a trap by a conman . At the same time, even professional landlords and letting agents fall prey to property scams, as, very often, tenant verification services (even online, including background checks) can fail or get manipulated.

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