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How to know if your new landlord is not a scammer ?

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last updated: 09 Nov 2016 report a problem

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We’ve written numerous guides about how to pass the tenant screening process. Literally, tenants get checked under microscope for every little detail there might be.

Landlord and letting agents frequently get over-zealous in their attempts to source good tenants, from rogues. On one hand the increased demand for accommodation has resulted in multiple people applying for the same property very soon after it’s back on the market. This gives landlords a plethora of tenants to pick from, so they naturally go for the ones likely to cause less trouble or god forbit go into arrears.

On the other hand, tenants can cause so much damage to a property, that the landlord’s profit for one or more years gets eaten up by the restoration bill. Naturally, you’d want to check up on the person you let in your property.

But what about tenants’ security ? Who makes sure tenants are not scammed out of their money ?

Rental scams have risen through the roof

By information from the BBC: “Reports of rental fraud in England and Wales leapt from 2,216 in 2014 to 3,193 in 2015.”

That’s 44% increase in just one year. Further in their research, the BBC discovered that some fraudsters are not even based in the UK, taking advantage of the online property market and listings websites.

Another research done by Rentprofile.co suggests that around 4% of all renters have been victims of rental scams.

The most popular type of scam happens through online listings websites, like Gumtree, SpareRoom or AirBnB, where literally everyone can advertise everything they want. Fake landlords would list properties that don’t exist, or are already occupied, or have never even been rented for sub standards rates, hoping that an easy fish would fall for the bait.

When a tenant calls, the so called landlord would sweet talk them into wanting the property and demand a “holding deposit” to be submitted into their banking account.

Obviously, the “landlord” goes missing with the money in hand never to be seen again.

Landlords have all this information available to them on demand, but it’s tenants who are required to submit thousands of pounds as deposits and upfront fees. So, how do you protect yourself from scammers ?

The first UK landlord checking service

RentProfile is a new free service tenants can use to check their landlord on the go, using their mobile phone or the property address. The website just got launched but already has 1000+ landlords on record, growing every day.

If you go ahead and search your landlord, it’s likely that it wont turn up a result, but in the near future, this may become the to go resource for checking your landlord. Alternatively, the company provides a thorough background check on any landlord, regardless if they are included in the directory or not, for just £9. This is typically the same price your landlord will pay to get you credit checked. (or make you pay)

If you’re pleased with your landlord, you can suggest them to sign up right now. As a landlord, everybody should aim to be cleared on as many services as they can possibly find. RentProfile is free and aims to become a major tenant resource in the near future, so really, why not ?

How to prevent being scammed

True to our style, we’re going to feature some practical advice on how not to get scammed.

Request your landlord’s ID – it’s certainly not impossible to forge a fake ID, or even steal a real landlord’s identity and use their legitimate property for scams. However, to succeed without the victim noticing anything speaks of mastery that filters out most common scammers.

Check the land registry to confirm the property’s owner – using the government’s land registry service, you can quickly make a check about the property’s real owner’s name. If this is not consistent with the person who you’re communicating with AND they represent themselves as “the landlord”, you should assume there is something a miss. At least, be weary and thoroughly check who is it you’re dealing with.

Look for landlords who are part of some third party organization or association, like NLA, RLA, The Guild of Residential Landlords. These associations offer some form of redress to tenants whose landlords are their members. Additionally, member landlords are required to uphold a code of conduct which more or less means they will abide by the established rules.

Always visit the property you’re about to pay for – certainly, some scammers may have access to the property in question. It may be a rogue letting agent, past renter or anyone who by some chance has obtained keys to an empty property. However, not seeing any property sets you up for a big failure from the get go.

Request a copy of the tenancy agreement and any other document you’d normally receive when you move in – inventory reports, gas safety certificates, HMO licenses, etc. All of these are relatively easy to photoshop. However, scammers don’t often prepare all the details, instead targeting inexperienced tenants, such as students or foreigners, who’re not up to speed with renting in the UK. A scammer is likely to not have all of them or allow inconsistencies throughout the paper work which will highlight false play.

Don’t hand in money without receipt – a professional landlord would offer payment receipts themselves, but if they don’t, make sure to request one before paying. A receipt is all the evidence you need to prove you’ve paid somebody something. As with any evidence, a smart scammer can also provide a fake receipt. You need to check if its details are consistent with the rest of the provided documentation.

Don’t get ushered ! – smart scammers use psychological attacks. It’s a costly mistake to assume that fraudsters are of low intelligence. Tenants frequently fall for scarcity. With less affordable accommodation on the market, tenants are often pitted against each other and usually, whoever gives the money first gets the property. It’s how it works, when you need a place to live in soon. It’s also how a scammer can make you forget all of the above points and hand in the money as a humble tenant. If you feel somebody pushing on you to hand things or pay in sketchy looking account, or Western Union or PayPal type of service, be on your guard. Don’t foolishly send somebody money with no recourse.

If you DO get scammed, make sure everybody knows – First of all, you must report your scam to Action Fraud – this is the national online service for reporting crimes and scams. You want to get the police on your case ASAP as it’s essential to catching your scammer.

Then go online and complaint to any available forum for tenants, landlords, local communities or other online portals for tenants to look for a rented accommodation. The best prevention of scams is collective information on real scammers, including phone numbers, addresses and names. This massive citizen action is going to allow scammers and real landlords or letting agents to be quickly identified on the internet.

We can recommend you to review your property with our partners at Asktenants.co.uk, so other tenants know the other side of your landlord and their property, before they sign the contract. Landlords are allowed to know everything about their tenants, so why not the other way around ?

Have you got a fraud or scam story ? Tell us in the forums – http://www.thetenantsvoice.co.uk/forum/ ! 

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