Four steps to avoiding let-and-run scams

Empty buy-to-let properties are increasingly becoming targets for hit-and-run fraudsters, cheating firms and benefit agencies.

Crooks often set up false accounts for empty homes and try to claim benefits in the names of former tenants.

In some cases, squatters even move in for a few days, often trashing the home and taking furniture and fittings when they leave.

The problem is so bad in some areas that councils and housing associations have set up anti-fraud teams to protect vacant homes.

For more read: What you can do if you have squatters

If you're looking to rent, follow these steps to avoid being duped by a fraudulent landlord.

1. Don't pay a letting agent simply to register – you shouldn't have to pay a penny until it finds you somewhere to live.

2. Check the tenancy agreement – if it's valid it'll include the landlord's details as well as contact details for the letting agent.

3. Don't hand over large amounts of cash unless you have a legal tenancy agreement. 

4. Rent from a reputable agent who is a member of a professional body such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) or the UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA). It might cost you more but you'll have greater protection.

For more information, or if you have any concerns about a letting agent or potential landlord, contact housing charity Shelter on 0808 800 4444.

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