The Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA) and the National Landlords Association (NLA) have called on the classified online listings service Gumtree to issue clear guidance over possible scams involving bogus letting scams.

The warning has been issued to Gumtree by the NLA and the RLA after fraudsters posed online as landlords, post ads on the popular website, asking for money in exchange for property viewings.

The practice is rife across the internet, with bogus advertisements showing what appear to be attractive dwellings at affordable prices. Responses to the ads are met with requests for payments up-front. Potential tenants are told that the landlords live a long way away, and that they must provide a deposit in order to secure a viewing. Sometimes, these fees have been as high as £1,500!

The practice includes the criminals behind these scams appearing to be associated with legitimate agents and have cloned websites and logos, including that of the NLA’s logos and the RLA’s Deposit Guard Scheme. As such, the scam appears genuine to would-be tenants.

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Once a potential tenant’s cash is paid over, that’s it: the fake viewing and the fraudsters never reply, their money is lost.

The RLA say that,

“Often, the victims in this type of fraud are young foreign students, who have limited knowledge of how the rental market works in the UK.”

Victims of this kind of fraud are being advised to call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

The internet has made looking for a property much easier that the old ways if trawling around endless estate agents, and Gumtree in particular has been increasingly popular in recent years with both landlords and prospective tenants.

But the internet can also so easily be a web of deceit and scams. Anyone can copy photos of properties which look enticing, and can make themselves appear legitimate by stealing logos and website content from legitimate businesses.

In one scam, the “landlord” claimed to be a member of the NLA, using the NLA logo and creating fake stationary, looking like a bona fide NLA Tenant Check service.

Richard Price, director of operations, NLA, said:

“Tenants, no matter where they are from, should not send payment to advertisers before they are certain that the advertiser is genuine.

“Overseas applicants needing to secure accommodation before they arrive in the UK would be well advised to first seek the help of the employer or university they are coming to. They will be knowledgeable of standard practices in the UK and often have lists of accredited landlords and local letting agents.

“A tenant can check on whether a prospective landlord is a member of the National Landlords Association, by going to www.goodlandlord.org.uk”

Examples of scam tricks:

The false property scam:

A scammer rents a landlord’s property often using a fake ID and then shows multiple prospective renters around it. They will then collect as many as they can of the first month’s rent, security deposits and other fees they can milk out of the unsuspecting victims.

Tenants should be wary of turning up to a property and handing over cash – this not standard renting practice.

Helping out a friend scam

A variation of this can be the scam is the scammer claiming to be a friend helping someone else rent their property, such as a sick relative. They may have broken into a property whilst the owners are away, or it has even been known for scammers to take deposits without even entering a property, making some excuse about not having keys at that time.

Foreign rental scams

Unsuspecting would be tenants and holiday renters still fall for the foreign rental scams advertised across the internet. These can be easily spotted with often broken English in e-mails, but many people still fall for them. These lets are auctioned over the internet without the need for the scammers to visit the property, or even the country property picture is in.

Tenants scamming landlords

The other side of the coin is where a renter answers an online property ad and asks to pay by Western Union or a similar money transfer service. If the landlord falls for this the renter will “accidentally” over pay. They will then request the overpayment is returned but the original payment meanwhile will bounce. This has become known as a Nigerian 419 scam.

How to avoid letting scams:

  • Never view properties when you are alone and ask the landlord for their ID.
  • If this is a private landlord and you are unsure, ask from proof of ownership of the property.
  • Ask the landlord if they are a member of one of the landlord associations – RLA, NLA etc.
  • Rent through established letting agents.
  • Make sure you use trusted brand websites.
  • Never pay any money upfront until you are certain that the landlord and/or letting agent is genuine.
  • Consider credit checking the landlord or agent.
  • Watch out for broken English in e-mails, whether you are prospective renter or landlord. Search Google for potential scammer details from their e-mails – often others have reported them.
  • Never send payments to people you have not met in person.

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