Renters' warning: bogus landlords are tricking potential tenants out of thousands

An army of tricksters are using online websites to trap their victims

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The Independent Online

Police today released CCTV of a bogus landlord suspected of defrauding members of the public out of more than £20,000. The man rented a flat in Islington in north London and advertised it on flat rental websites. He then tricked at least 12 people into handing over sizable deposits, in total handing more than £20,000 to the fraudster.

When new tenants arrived with their belongings, it became obvious they’d been victims of a scam. The bogus landlord was caught on CCTV when he persuaded one of his victims to withdraw £4,200 from a bank to pay for her rent in advance.

He’s not the only crook out there tricking hopeful renters. There’s an army of bogus landlords targeting people looking to flatshare or rent a home. The fraudsters are posting bogus flatshare or rental deals online to trap people into handing over huge deposits. But when they get your cash, they trouser it and disappear.

It happened to Pauline when she moved to London from Ireland last year after finishing university. “I had been looking on several websites to find a flatshare as coming out of uni that’s all I could afford. I was contacted by Denise who said she was the landlord of a Whitechapel four bed flat to share.”

They exchanged emails and Denise sent pictures of the flat, which looked fine. Pauline asked her to book the room 10 days before her flight to London. Denise asked for a deposit and the first month’s rent to secure the room so Pauline send £1,200 after Denise had forwarded me a copy of her passport and gave me her bank details.

“Ten days later I flew into London and went straight from Heathrow to the address Denise had given me. It was a shock,” says Pauline. “The flat belonged to a family who said that no Denise had ever lived there.”

There are similar tales of woe happening all the time. Unsuspecting people are tricked by unscrupulous crooks preying on their victims’ lack of experience.

The specialist flatsharing website EasyRoommate reckons that on average, it spots and takes down around 1,400 fake room registrations each month out of the 40,000 listings they carry.

EasyRoommate chief executive Karim Goudiaby: “You should never sign a formal agreement or pay your deposit before having physically viewed the flat. On top of that don’t disclose your private email address or phone number or provide personal documents such as ID card, passport, home address, payslips until you’ve seen a flat and signed an agreement.”

Tips to spot potentially crooked listings include looking out for offers that seem a little too attractive. Tell-tale signs of a fraudulent ad include the rent price being slightly below the market average. You should also be wary of ads that are very detailed and promising a lot or, conversely, are very vague and could be describing any room in the country. Alarm bells should also sound if you’re told a flat belongs to a family member or friend who is abroad and cannot meet with you in person.

Steve Bolton of Platinum Property Partners said: “The majority of landlords are honest, but tenants must protect themselves against the bad apples.”

He advises people to check the landlord is a member of an association and get a receipt for their deposit, as well as a certificate to show which deposit protection scheme their money has gone into.

“If a tenant is concerned that they might be dealing with a fraudster there are some extra ‘belt and braces’ steps they can take, like checking on the Land Registry that the person who says they are the landlord actually owns the property,” he added.

What happened to Pauline? After a short stay in a hostel and with help from her parents, she eventually found a flat in Stratford and now works in a restaurant nearby.

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