A BBC investigation has exposed rental scams in Edinburgh that use short-lets to trick desperate tenants into handing over deposits for fake tenancies.

Scammers are capitalising on the city’s boom in holiday lets and shortage of affordable housing, often abusing the country’s national landlord register in the process to dupe victims.

Hamish Drain paid £2,300 to a supposed landlord called William Wilson after being shown round an apartment in Old Fishmarket Close advertised on Facebook Marketplace for £950 a month for rent and bills.

“He sent us a landlord registration number, a limited company – all the things that made us think it was a legitimate property,” Hamish told BBC Scotland.

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But when the landlord stopped replying to his emails, he realised he’d been duped. American student Mary also paid Wilson £2,300 to secure the property and signed a tenancy agreement before discovering the fraud.

Unwitting participant

They had both been shown around the flat by Tony, who had been hired by text to act as a viewing agent. After 21 viewings in two days, Tony realised something was wrong when multiple people contacted him to say they’d been offered a contract – and he realised he’d been an unwitting participant in a fraud.

The furnished flat used in the scam is owned by a private company providing tourist accommodation, photos of which are used in online advertising which the scammer used on his advert on Facebook Marketplace. To make it more convincing, he sent those rushing to secure the property a list of documents, including Registers of Scotland paperwork and a fake passport of the supposed landlord. But the ownership papers and bank statements didn’t match and his landlord number was linked to a different business in Orkney.

BBC Scotland said it was unable to reach the owner of the landlord registration number but that there was no suggestion either had any involvement in Wilson’s scheme.

Read more about scams in the PRS.

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