The internet has opened up the property world, allowing buyers and tenants to view homes ‘virtually’ from the comfort of their home. They can browse the web to find property, compare prices and even research the neighbourhood before deciding whether to book a viewing.
However, the internet is also susceptible to some sophisticated – and some not so clever – scams. The latest to hit the headlines involves fraudsters posing as landlords to demand cash for securing a viewing.
The scammers posed as landlords and posted adverts on Gumtree, in addition to other sites, offering attractive and affordable flats for rent.
The ads reeled in potential tenants who would call to arrange a viewing. During the phone call, the fraudsters were told that the landlord lived a long way from the property, possibly even abroad, and so they would need to pay a deposit to secure a viewing. This would make sure that they were not time wasters. So the prospective tenants would hand over about £1,500 – only to find that the viewing never materialised and that their money had disappeared.
The problem is that the ads looked genuine because the fraudsters would clone logos of websites such as the Residential Landlords’ Association DepositGuard Scheme, so that if the tenants made checks the scheme would appear to be legitimate.
In a bid to stamp out the scams, the RLA has asked Gumtree to provide clear warnings about possible scams involving fake rentals.
The RLA said that many of the victims of this type of fraud are foreign students who do not know how the rental system operates in this country.
It would also be helpful if there was a warning on websites pointing out that genuine landlords do not ask for money or a deposit simply to secure a booking. Tenants including students should never pay a holding deposit or viewing deposit without seeing the property and should avoid paying money online.
Gumtree has very useful advice on its website to assist users in determining whether they are about to fall victim of a scam. They advise people to meet personally in a safe environment in order to hand over money or goods.
In the property sector, buyers and tenants who work with reputable, licensed landlords or agencies can also be assured that their money is safe.
Licensed individuals and organisations must work within a comprehensive set of rules and regulations in order to provide safeguards for both the tenant and the landlord.