Two things are always with us they say – death and taxes. To that, we should add criminals and scammers out to cheat you of your money and your property.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has made things easier for the scammers as we tend to avoid meeting people and visiting properties to protect ourselves against infection.
Here are some tips to help you – five for landlords and five for tenants:
Tips for Landlords
1 Never let anyone take away the keys
Because they could get them copied and then they will have access to your property! The only time you should hand over keys is after a tenant has signed their tenancy agreement and paid the initial rent and deposit money.
2 Never pay out against a cheque until it has cleared.
What can happen (with a scammer) is that the cheque will never clear and you will be out of pocket.
3 Always check applicants VERY carefully
Remember that con men are very persuasive – that’s their job! So make sure you check them out thoroughly, get a credit check done and follow up all references. You also need to be VERY careful about applicants who offer to pay large sums of cash in advance – that is the classic sign of someone who wants to rent your property for criminal purposes, eg to use as a cannabis farm.
4 Make sure you have protected your property at the Land Registry
For example, ensure that any applications to sell or mortgage the property get sent to your address rather than the rented property! Otherwise it is all too easy for your tenants to take control. Find out more here.
5. Set up a Google Alert for the address
You should then be notified if your address is being advertised somewhere without your knowledge or permission. Find out how to set up a google alert here.
Tips for Tenants
1 Be VERY careful before you pay over any money
Note that it is not unknown for scammers to advertise rented properties that they do not own, or which sometimes do not even exist, to take rent and deposit upfront and then disappear leaving the prospective tenant to find out their error. Some tenants have lost a lot of money this way. Students are sometimes targeted.
2 Use agents regulated by ARLA or RICS if possible
These are, for the most part, trustworthy organisations and you are unlikely to experience any issues. If you do, the regulator will normally have a complaints process. But check the agent’s membership as criminals sometimes pretend to be members when they are not. There are a lot of criminal agencies around.
3 If you are renting from a landlord direct
Try to use a landlord who is a member of an accreditation service (you can usually check membership) or if you are a student, a landlord recommended by your college or university accommodation office. Be particularly wary about answering adverts on social media.
4 Do not pay any money in respect of a property you have not visited personally
Particularly if there is no way to check the credentials of the landlord or agent. Mind you, being shown round a property is not a complete protection as the scammer could have obtained the keys without the property owner’s consent. However, at least you can be sure that the property does actually exist.
5 Never agree to wire funds to a money transfer service
This is a classic rip off. You are asked to wire money to a friend or relative ‘as a sign of good faith’. The ‘landlord’ will then ask for a receipt, withdraw the money and disappear. This scam is particularly associated with the transfer service Western Union.
If you are ripped off
Sadly even if you follow all the advice above, you may find that a scammer has been too clever for you and that you have lost money. If this happens:
- Report the matter to the Police. They may not be very interested (the Police tend not to take housing issues seriously) but at least there will be a record of the problem
- If the advert was on a platform such as Rightmove or SpareRoom – TELL THEM. The last thing a respectable platform wants is dodgy adverts on their site. Even though you have lost money this may help protect others.
But if you are vigilant and double-check everything you should be all right.
If you have any stories of being ripped off or scams you want to share to warn others – please post a comment below.