Renters are being warned about fraudsters pretending to be landlords who ask for up-front deposits.
Action Fraud, the national fraud and cyber-crime reporting centre, says fraudsters are posing as landlords online in order to trick people into paying upfront rent into a Tenancy Deposit Scheme.
It says that since December it has received 28 reports amounting to a total loss of £19,990.
How the scam works
Before a house hunter views a property, the fraudster asks them to pay a deposit and in some cases a month’s rent upfront.
They claim that the money will be protected by Tenancy Deposit Scheme and that the money is safeguarded under government legislation.
Once the money has been paid, the fraudster sends a bogus email claiming to be from to be from Tenancy Deposit Scheme and confirming they have received their deposit.
Victims later discover that the money has been sent directly to the fraudster and that they have been left out of pocket and with no home to move into.
Director of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, says: “Devious fraudsters are targeting a whole host of victims, from university students to professionals, for their own selfish gain.
“Falling victim to rental fraud can have a huge impact on your finances at a crucial time where every penny counts. This is why it’s so important to follow our advice to protect yourself.
“If you think you have been a victim, report it to us.”
Chief executive of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, Steve Harriott, says: “Whilst the deposits are never actually protected through TDS, we’re keen to make sure consumers in the market are protected.
“The fraudulent activity includes large sums of money and we want to raise awareness to stop people from falling victim to this type of activity.
“If anyone has any queries or isn’t sure about whether or not the process they’re being asked to follow is correct, they can contact TDS who will be more than happy to guide them.”
How to protect yourself
Always make sure you, or a reliable contact, has viewed the property with an agent or landlord before agreeing to rent a property.
Don’t be rushed or pressured into making a decision. Only transfer funds when you’re satisfied a genuine property, safety certificates and valid contract are in place.
Only pay for goods or service by bank transfer if you know and trust the person. Payments via bank transfer offer you no protection if you become a victim of fraud.
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Once you’ve paid your deposit, you can check whether it’s protected by entering your tenancy deposit certificate code on the Tenancy Deposit Scheme website.
Every report matters – if you’ve been a victim of fraud or cyber crime, report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040.