Scam Awareness Week and Fake Letting Agents
It was scam awareness week last week. And very high on the list of scammers are fake letting agents and fake landlords.
Unfortunately, hand in hand with the growth of the private rented sector, fake letting agents and fake landlords have proliferated.
To make matters worse for tenants, we think this area of criminality has never been dealt with effectively by the police or Crown Prosecution Service. In fact, 16 years ago, as a landlord, we had direct experience of how the CPS and police simply could not be bothered to prosecute in the face of a huge amount of evidence.
I hope this is now changing and maybe Scam Awareness Week will help change this – as might also the debate now being held in parliament about rapacious letting agency fees.
So what sort of things should tenants be on the look out for in order to help protect themselves?
Well, warning signs and alarm bells should flash if you go to a viewing of a property where the person handling the viewing says, “You can have the place if you just put down a deposit and rent in cash right now”. And if the property is being advertised at what seems a very cheap “too-good-to-miss” rent, then those alarm bells should be deafening!
Anyone with half a techie brain can scrape property pictures from the internet and re-use in a faked advert. And the smarter criminals even go to the trouble of creating fake websites. It’s easy peasy.
Sadly lots of people, especially from overseas, will just wire over money on the basis of seeing an “advert” online, so the criminals often don’t even have to show the property at all. However, there is even more cash to be made for those criminal who can somehow get into the property if it is left vacant.
The criminal will start by advertising the property at low rent so it will generate huge levels of interest. Once that is done, the criminal rakes in multiple “reservation” and “agency” fees, (and often deposits and rents too), from would-be applicants, before they disappear, never to be seen again.
This kind of thing is most rife in flats where security is weak and the neighbours are into the habit of letting anyone into the communal area who rings the bell. And yes, AirBnB has not helped things!
Protecting Yourself from Scam Letting Agents and Fake Landlords
Here are our tips to stay safe….…
• Google both landlord and agent to see if they are listed elsewhere or if any comments have been made about them. If they are using logos where they claim to be a member of a letting agents’ body, such as ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents), check with that body to see if they really are a member.
• Check the landlord’s name on the land registry website, though bear in mind that even if you find the name of the landlord is correct, this is still not evidence of a genuine let as anyone can obtain the owners name by paying £3 to the land registry. So ask for their ID too. All agents should know the name of the landlord. If they are not certain and say they will have to get back to you, those alarm bells should be ringing again!
• Never hand over cash – ever, nor wire money via Wells Fargo or such money transfer agencies. Any real letting agent and any decent landlord will want to check you out first and won’t require more than possibly a small reservation fee to carry out reference and credit checks initially.
Never be shy about asking for the landlords or letting agents ID. You can say you have been a victim of a fraud before and just want to protect yourself.
The right ID to ask for will be a passport or new style driving license (with the photo on it). Check the name against the land registry records. If it is not the same, then find out why not.
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