Although the Internet has made it easier to find a property to rent, it has also made it far easier for those intent on scamming you out of your money to make a living.
While this has been going on for some time, a recent documentary highlighted just how far con artists are willing to go and it appears that the rental property market is an easy target. Essentially, the scam targets those who are looking to rent. The victims view the property and then hand over the deposit. This is standard practice in any rental deal, but unfortunately in these cases, the person who is taking the money is either not the actual homeowner or is not a registered letting agent.
The same property is leased out numerous times and a deposit secured on each occasion. The problem is of course, is that the person purportedly renting out the property does so without the consent or knowledge of the owner. Needless to say, the scamster disappears with all the money and the prospective tenant is left high and dry, and out of pocket.
Fraud is on the rise and it is important to remember that these people are not stupid. In fact, they are very clever and are seemingly always one step ahead of the law. There are ways, however, that prospective tenants can protect themselves.
• Be wary of free Internet advertising sites. Most con artists are unwilling to pay to perpetrate a fraud and most abuse the many free sites that are available. For this reason, it is recommended that prospective tenants deal with larger, dedicated property websites or a rental agent’s business webpage.
• Only deal with a registered letting agent. Anyone can claim to be a letting agent so it is imperative to ask to see a copy of their Fidelity Fund Certificate. Only agents who have registered with the Estate Agency Affairs Board and are therefore legally allowed to practice will have this important document in their possession. Be certain to check the date on the certificate. It must state that the agent is licensed to practice for the current year. Agents are not allowed to sell, rent or list property unless they have a valid certificate.
• Never rent a property sight unseen, no matter how good it looks in the photographs.
• Always meet the person you are dealing with. Con artists will go to great lengths to avoid meeting the person they are trying to scam. If the landlord/agent is unwilling to meet, or offers numerous excuses as to why they can’t meet, treat the renting exercise with caution and do not deposit money into his account.
• Do not allow anyone to pressurise you into making a decision. Be wary of pushy people. If they threaten you with the fact that they have other tenants waiting to snap up the rental, rather walk away and find another property.
• If the rent being charged seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Be very wary of suspiciously low rentals. Do a little homework to ascertain whether the rent being charged is in line with other rental properties in the area.
Remember, con artists are smooth characters and will have an answer for everything. Don’t be fooled and do not deposit any money into anyone’s bank account until you are absolutely sure that the person claiming to own or have permission to rent out a property actually has the homeowner’s consent to do so.