08 Dec 2021

The BBC Radio 4 consumer affairs programme You and Yours says 4,746 rental scams have been reported to the police and authorities in the past 12 months costing victims over £7.5m.

The problem is thought to have become much worse in the past year because of the pandemic and the shortage of rental stock, meaning tenants are tempted to take short cuts and may not be as scrupulous as usual with checks.

On the programme, Alison Farrer of the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agent Team said: “We see lots of fake property listings and we see people replying to messages [on social media] from people struggling to find somewhere.

“The fake listings are where people have stolen picture from somebody else’s website and have pretended they have got [their own] flat. And we’ve seen where they have access to the flat in some way – perhaps a tenant about to be evicted or they managed to rent the flat for a short time and use that information to fake a listing.”

You and Yours had two case studies of fake listings appearing on Facebook – the platform told the programme it was investing in people and technology to try to eradicate the problem. 

Farrer told listeners that if they were concerned about a possible fake they could do a reverse-image search on the internet to find if pictures had been stolen from other sites – that is how the NTSELAT identifies some fakes.

There are various frauds going the rounds in the rental sector.

In recent weeks landlords, letting agents and tenants in South Yorkshire have been warned about an increase in rental fraud.

PC Vicki Arrowsmith, from the Fraud Co-ordination Team, says: “Victims are making enquiries in relation to properties advertised on social media and then contacting the fraudster directly via email, phone or direct messages.

“Once they agree to rent the property, they are sent a tenancy agreement via email. The victim transfers a deposit to confirm the agreement and is given a move-in date – however when they get there the property is either already rented out or the occupants have lived at the address for a number of years.

“The victims try to contact the landlord, however all the phone numbers are disconnected and the advert has disappeared.

“It can be incredibly difficult to trace those responsible for this horrible scam and get the money back. That’s why it’s so important everyone spreads the word about this scam to prevent others from becoming victims.”

And the Law Society of England and Wales has joined forces with the National Economic Crime Centre and the Action Fraud service to warn about payment diversion fraud.

Criminals are actively targeting property purchases, including those by landlords, with the aim of tricking people into transferring over their house deposit and/or the balance of purchase monies to them.

The frauds almost always involve the criminals pretending to be the victim’s lawyer to con them into diverting their payment to an account the crooks control.

“These frauds can involve huge sums of money and have a devastating lifelong impact on the home buyer and their personal finances. Solicitors and their clients can all play a part in making such crimes more difficult for the criminals” says Law Society president I Stephanie Boyce.

One buyer was scammed into handing over £640,000. 

Link to original article

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