Renters are increasingly being targeted by fraudsters exploiting the tight property market, warns the National Association of Property Buyers. The association has identified a trend of scammers posting counterfeit property adverts on platforms like Facebook and Gumtree. These adverts often mimic genuine property listings, but the contact details are altered. When prospective renters reach out, these fraudsters pose as landlords and vanish after securing a deposit.
Data from Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, indicates that rental scams surged by 23% last year with 5,751 reported incidents, leading to an alarming £9.4 million in total losses. Each victim, on average, lost around £1,600. Just last month, 541 cases were registered.
Jonathan Rolande, a representative of the National Association of Property Buyers, commented on the issue, saying, “Currently, we are observing a dearth of decent, budget-friendly rental properties. This scarcity often leads to desperation among renters, making it a prime opportunity for scammers.”
Highlighting the challenges renters face, Rolande added, “With approximately 20 applicants vying for a single rental home, potential tenants are experiencing the worst of the housing crunch. Those who don’t meet all criteria set by landlords and agents, such as those receiving benefits or having pets, are most at risk.”
Detailing common fraudulent tactics, Rolande said, “Fraudsters often send fake links. Never trust a link sent via text or Whatsapp. Some demand a deposit just to view the property – a clear red flag. Others might attempt to let a property they don’t own. It’s crucial to verify the landlord’s credentials. Additionally, be wary of anyone promising a single property to multiple tenants.”
For renters looking to safeguard themselves, Rolande offered the following advice:
- Verify landlord credentials using tools like Land Registry or Companies House.
- Be cautious of listings with implausibly low rents.
- Resist high-pressure tactics pushing you to make hasty decisions.
- Conduct reverse image searches on property photos to spot stolen images.
- Maintain communication on the original platform where the listing was found.
- Avoid engaging with dubious links.
Emphasising the importance of caution, Rolande concluded, “While these guidelines offer a good defence against scams, they’re not infallible. It’s paramount to be vigilant and conduct thorough research before any monetary transactions or personal data sharing. If possible, consider using an established letting agency.”
He pointed out that the underlying issue stems from the lack of available rental properties, compelling tenants to make snap decisions. Recent data highlights this, showing an average monthly rent peak of £1,273 in June, a stark rise from the £951 recorded the previous year. The first half of this year alone saw nearly 66,000 rental listings on Gumtree, which garnered over a million responses.