Finding decent and affordable housing can be a major source of stress and, with much of the property search happening online, it can be all too easy for scammers to target unsuspecting students, especially when you may not have experience in finding your own place or be familiar with the area you’re looking to move into.
Here are some general tips that may come in handy and some warning signs to look out for to ensure you don’t fall victim to these elaborate cons
- Research thoroughly - Look at other platforms, check Google Streetview, make sure the address really exists, do a reverse image search and keep an eye out for any inconsistencies.
- Meet the owner or landlord - Realistically, you can still get scammed even after meeting the property’s owner or landlord, but it’s still better to meet them in person and get their full name. There are instances where scammers give fake names and identities to potential tenants, so it helps to ask questions about them and look them up online if you can.
- See the property in person before handing over any money or personal information - Often the person posing as a landlord will try to convince you that they live abroad, or have been let down before, so need you to prove that you’re serious by paying a deposit before viewing. They might also start asking for your identity documents before you’ve even met. These could be used to carry out more serious identity fraud. We strongly advise against paying or signing anything before viewing a property.
Warning Signs to look out for:
- Free listings: Scammers love free listing sites so always be extra careful of properties advertised on free sites like Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace.
- Properties with very low rent: When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ensure you view the property and seek advice from the Uni housing team before paying a deposit to ensure you won’t lose out.
- Request for payment upfront, maybe even before you see the property: If they’re pushing you to make a deposit or upfront payment quickly, especially without a legal contract in place and before you’ve had a chance to meet them in person or view the property, be cautious.
- Request to transfer money via money transfer services such as Western Union or Moneygram: This is a red flag as the money often can’t be traced or reclaimed once you’ve made a payment.
- Multiple ads for the same property: These can sometimes have slightly different descriptions or pictures.
- Unnecessary description of the landlord: Often scams will make the landlord sound respectable and fair. If this feels a little unnecessary, consider why this information is being included.
- Lettings agency with little online presence: Sometimes scammers will create their own lettings agency to appear legitimate. Google the company and see what’s online about them.
- Pushy landlord: If the landlord is pushing you to pay money immediately, be cautious.
- Pictures: Are the pictures different to the property? Do the pictures look fake or unnatural?
Reporting A Scam
Please report your suspicions or incidents to Action Fraud, either on the Action Fraud website or (only if you are in the UK) by phoning 0300 123 2040.
Your reports will then be passed on to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and analysed to see if they can be used as part of a police investigation.
Support for victims of online fraud is available through the Victim Support Charity.