Action Fraud is warning potential tenants, and students in particular, to look out for the signs of rental fraud when searching for a property – as new figures show victims of the crime reported losing more than £22 million over a four-year period.
Between April 1 2014 and March 31 2018, victims reported losing a staggering £22,103,940 to rental fraud – an average of £1,396 per victim.
“Rental fraud happens when prospective tenants are tricked into paying an upfront fee to rent a property. In reality, the property does not exist, has already been rented out, or has been rented to multiple victims at the same time,” says Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre.
“Victims will lose the upfront fee they have paid and are not able to rent the property they thought they had secured. In 429 cases, victims reported losing £5,000 or more.”
According to Action Fraud, scammers will often make contact with their victims online.
“The adverts will seem genuine and are often accompanied by photos and contact information. In some cases the victim will view the property in person, but in most cases the payment is made without prior viewing,” says Action Fraud.
Action Fraud sees a spike in reporting levels in July and August. This yearly peak is likely due to people looking for holiday accommodation during the summer months, with holiday fraud accounting for approximately 27 per cent of all rental fraud reports during this period.
“Fraudsters will often target college and university students ahead of the new term with fake lettings in local accommodation, taking advantage of the huge demand to collect fees up front to secure a deposit.
Between April 2014 and March 2018, 930 reports of university-related rental fraud, with losses of £1,103,416, were made to Action Fraud. However, the true figure is believed to be higher, as the figure is dependent on victims making their student status known when reporting to Action Fraud.”
The number of reports peaked each year in September when students are likely to be organising their accommodation for the academic year. 61 per cent of university rental fraud victims reported a ‘significant’ impact on their health or financial wellbeing as a result of being defrauded.
“Whether you’re booking a well-earned holiday or looking to secure university accommodation, it’s important to be wary of devious fraudsters who are looking to take your money,” says Pauline Smith, director of Action Fraud.
“The impact of rental fraud can be severe, both emotionally and financially. By taking simple steps such as visiting the property you intend to rent or checking that the owner is on an approved accommodation list, you will be able to protect yourself from this type of fraud.
“If you think you have been a victim of rental fraud, contact Action Fraud.”
Protect yourself from rental fraud
Visit the property before you pay – Watch-out for adverts with no photos, or where multiple adverts have the same photos as they could be fake. Do not pay any money until you or a reliable contact has visited the property with an agent or the landlord.
Be cautious about how you send money – The safest way to make a payment is by a credit card in person at the letting agent’s office. Be skeptical if you’re asked to transfer money via a money transfer service.
Don’t be pressured into transferring large sums of money – Under no circumstances would a genuine bank or another trusted organisation force you to make a financial transaction on the spot.
Check that the owner is on an approved accommodation list – Check with your student union or accommodation office as many universities and colleges will have an approved housing list. Also look for accreditation membership such as National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS), Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA).
If you have been a victim of fraud or cyber crime, report it online or by calling 0300 123 2040.