Fortunately scams are relatively rare, but they can prove costly and distressing for victims – so it pays to be aware, and know how to avoid them.
Fraudsters advertise properties that do not exist, are already rented, or do not belong to them. Posing as landlords, some will arrange viewings (having broken in or rented the property themselves). They will often ask for money upfront, tricking multiple prospective tenants into handing over deposits, fees and advance rent payments… before disappearing without trace. 🙁 🙁 🙁
Scam victims can lose thousands of pounds, as well as the home they thought they had secured – sometimes discovering the fraud only on moving-in day! 😥 😥 😥
Protect Yourself – Be Vigilant
Ideally, rent through a reputable letting agent or a landlord who has been recommended to you.
If that’s not possible, exercise caution – particularly if you decide to rent privately (directly through a landlord). In the current climate where demand far exceeds supply, scammers hope people will cut corners and pay up immediately to secure a property. Don’t be tempted! Better to lose out to less careful tenants than be fleeced by fraudsters!
Property Search – What to Watch
Scammers do manage to get listings on to reputable websites and apps, so look out for the telltale signs:
If the rental price looks too good to be true, it probably is!
Check out similar properties, so you get an idea of the market rate.
Be wary if there are no photos of the property, or if the same photos are used on other listings.
If you’re shown a property that looks different from the ad, don’t proceed with the viewing.
Be cautious if an ad is poorly worded or has dodgy spelling. Many scammers are based abroad and are not fluent in English.
Scam ads often have email contact only.
Look for UK phone numbers – check they work and are not just fax numbers.
An overseas landlord should have a UK lettings agent managing the rental.
Google the property, landlord and agent (if applicable); a search might reveal discrepancies e.g. the property might be listed elsewhere by the genuine landlord.
Viewings – Useful Tips
Never proceed with a rental without viewing the property – if you’re unable to go yourself, get someone you trust to see it.
An increasing number of agents/websites are offering virtual reality viewings, which can save time and help you compile a shortlist of properties, but it’s never a substitute for thoroughly checking out the property and surrounding area, to make sure you would be happy living there (and to ensure it’s not a scam!)
The best places will be snapped up quickly – arrange viewings promptly so you don’t miss out.
Take a checklist & questions
There’s a lot to take in at viewings, so it’s a good idea to go prepared with a checklist, so you don’t forget anything; add your essential criteria, so you can see whether the property ticks all your boxes!
Click here for our printable Viewings Checklist.
View the property twice at least
Don’t be put off by excuses, however plausible they seem e.g. redecorating, no one available to show you round, inconvenient for current tenant etc. And never fall for the story that the landlord is overseas but will post the keys once you’ve paid a deposit.
Take someone with you
It is recommended that you don’t attend viewings unaccompanied. Go with the agent or take a friend – it’s safer and you’ll get a second opinion.
Ask to take photos, or video the property viewing (and the landlord) e.g. via What’s App.
Say it will help you remember, or that you want to show a potential flatmate – be wary if they are unwilling.
Note how familiar the landlord is with the property
E.g. do they know the location of the electricity, gas and water meters, or which council tax band applies?
Ask about the landlord
It’s perfectly normal for prospective tenants to talk to neighbours, or the concierge if there is one for flats.
If you’re joining a house-share, make sure you meet your housemates – first impressions matter.
Landlord & Letting Agent – Check them out
Before you sign or pay anything, you need to be sure that the prospective agency/landlord is genuine, and legally entitled to rent you the property. See our guide on what to check, so you can spot the good guys and avoid the fraudsters!
Tenancy Costs – What to Pay & How to Pay
Be savvy about which costs are acceptable, paying safely and avoiding scams.
Never pay any money or sign an agreement until:
- You have viewed the property (twice at least)
- You are certain that the landlord/letting agent is genuine
- You have agreed the rent and other costs