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OPINION: It's time Facebook took action to stop rent scams on Marketplace


Facebook is facing mounting calls to more effectively police its Marketplace classified listings platform after numerous investigations by national media outlets.

The most recent was last night (23rd February) when ITV News highlighted the growing number of tenants being ripped off by 'fake landlord' prepayment rent and deposit scams.

These come in various forms but essentially criminals steal pictures and videos from portals such as Rightmove or estate agent websites and use them to advertise real properties to rent which do not belong to them.

After taking advance payment for deposits and rent often totalling thousands of pounds, the renters turn up to their properties to collect their keys and begin their tenancies only to discover it's all a fraud.

The scams involve two key strategies '� advertising properties to rent under market value, tapping into many tenants' desperate need for affordable properties; and taking advantage of people who need to move home quickly.

This includes students, people escaping abusive relationships, foreigners starting new jobs in the UK ' the list goes on.

Both strategies mean tenants tend not to question why they can't see the property before moving in, and the more sophisticated scammers rent Airbnb properties to enable 'viewings' to take place, too.

Rip Off Britain

Last night's ITV investigation follows a BBC Radio 4 You and Yours probe the week before, and a BBC Rip Off Britain piece in May last year and a further investigation by the broadcaster the year before.

Such criticism appear to fall on deaf ears at Facebook, which usually says it will investigate individual properties that appear to be fake listings, but has yet to significantly tighten up its Marketplace security to prevent such scams.

LandlordZONE has contacted Facebook requesting comment on its approach to scammers but so far, the company has not responded.

I should point out Facebook is not the only platform to host scammers ' we have written regularly about other scams on Gumtree and Google.

Bad name

But the wider point here is that all this dodgy activity gives the private rented sector a bad name and reinforces the view of many that vulnerable tenants are open to scam activity on multiple levels including rent-to-rent tenancies, rogue agents and so on.

It is time that landlords and agents, whose property pictures are used by criminals to lure in victims, urge the Government and companies like Facebook to do something about this before a growing scam scandal becomes a tragedy.

It is particularly shameful that Facebook appears reluctant to tackle the problem and put its vast profits - 20 billion last year ' at risk.

Nigel Lewis is editor of LandlordZONE.


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