Avoid “Legitimate UK” Rental Scams Before Moving in London? Common Signs of Fraud

While hunting for a new rental home, whether it be a house or a flat, your main focus would typically be finding a place that meets as many of your requirements as possible. Because of this,  people moving in or to London rarely think of the possibility of being defrauded. However, scammers are always out there, ready to get you! scam Unfortunately, the market is full of people who take advantage of vulnerable and unsuspecting renters. This is especially prevalent amidst the COVID-19 pandemic where a significant number of renters searching for housing do property viewings and lease signings online. So, keeping your eyes open is a must to avoid one of the worst moving house mistakes one could make! Otherwise, you might end up with a disaster much worse than an overwhelming cost for moving home. To be helpful to you during your home search, WhatStorage has come up with a detailed guide that includes the most common signs of rental scams and priceless tips on how to avoid housing fraud.

Fraudulent Listings 

Imagine browsing rental offers and coming across a flat that looks and sounds just perfect! One too good to be true. Well.. it probably isn’t. Fake listings can be as real as legitimate housing. That’s because scammers publish misleading offers by copying.. real listings. Surprise, surprise! Fraudsters just change the contact information, add more appealing details, and lower the price to paint a dream spot that would lure a victim. Signs to look out for, to identify and avoid a housing scam:
  • – Missing key components in the ad, such as the full address, photos, history.
  • – A cheap price. It’s a good idea to do some research on market prices in the same area for comparison to determine if the listing price is actually fake or you’re just after property in one of the cheapest areas in London.
  • – No background or credit checks included in the ad. Scammers skip this when creating the listing so they attract the attention of more prospective renters, even those with a smaller credit score or someone with a criminal background.
  • – A landlord refusing to show you the place. Often, their excuses are that they are out of town or dealing with a family emergency. It is also a red flag when they don’t agree, even to a virtual property tour.
  • – A landlord demanding for you to pay the deposit immediately without papers for chores like end of tenancy cleaning. They will explain that there is high interest in the unit and that you will need to put in your down payment as soon as possible to reserve the place. Never give money to a landlord unless they show you the place and you have a legitimate contract.

Lack of A Written Lease

written lease
Lease contract, close-up
Any rental agreement that is verbal is likely a scam. Even month-to-month agreements include written documentation.  Sign of a rental scam: It’s definitely suspicious if a landlord asks you to rent the property without signing a lease. It’s even more concerning if the landlord makes up a range of doubtful reasons to explain why he or she doesn’t want a lease. So, always insist on a legal lease, and before signing, read and double-check every provision carefully. Also make sure that you and the landlord get a copy of the contract, and not just them.

Fake Landlords

Realtor Showing Young Couple Around Property For Sale This rental scam is when a fraudster pretends to be a landlord and shows a potential tenant an empty property that, in most cases, is not even theirs to rent out. According to property expert Paul Gibbens, this is most common with properties awaiting companies who buy houses to finish paperwork, as these are most vulnerable to unsolicited visitors. If the tenant likes the place and is ready to rent, fake landlords would ask for a deposit and often,  rent for the first and last months to reserve the property. Such deposits would often cost about a few hundred pounds or more. But then… When the time to take the last step on the moving checklist comes, it turns out the rental place is already occupied because it was never available for lease. And then, the fraudulent landlord, as well as the tenant’s money will be nowhere to be found. This fraud is quite serious because many fail to realise that it is a scam until it happens.  Sign of a rental scam: Be very vigilant once the landlord starts pushing for you to put down the deposit immediately.

Middleman Scam

Similar to the fake landlord fraud, this scam involves a deceiver who acts as an authorised person handling the rental on behalf of the true owner. There would be a somewhat legitimate reason, such as travel, health issues, and many more.  The property is usually non-existent, and the middleman presents it only through photos and information copied from other real listings. The scammer collects money for rent, deposit, and other fees, before disappearing once they get their money.  Sign of a rental scam: When you demand to inspect the rental, the middleman admits they don’t have access to it and comes up with all kinds of suspicious excuses. So, if you get into a similar situation, never make payments to uncertain people.

Nigerian Rental Scam

The Nigerian rental scheme affects prospective tenants living overseas.  This nasty fraud is all about publishing fake rental ads on different online rental platforms and conning unsuspecting tenants willing to move to the UK to send rent prices overseas through money wire transfer services. Some red flags you should be on the lookout for are:
  • – When the so-called landlord corresponds with you about the property via email. Poor grammar and strange sentences that make no sense are definitely red flags.
  • – The rental ad comes from outside of the country where the property for renting actually is.
  • – Again, there is a sense of urgency from the side of the landlord regarding the deposit and rent payment.
So, to avoid the Nigerian scam, deal with local landlords or a reputable agency. And, of course, do not agree to send any money to anyone without first seeing the property.

Additional Sign of a Rental Scam:

Let’s look at some more red flags you will want to watch out for:
  • – Free rental listings. Ads on free rental websites are often fake, so be wary if you consider them as rental options.
  • – Multiple rental ads for the same property.
  • – Unnecessary landlord description. Scammers often describe a landlord as a fair and respectable person to make the ad sound more reputable, but they tend to exaggerate. Thus, the information sounds unnatural and suspicious.
  • – Photos that don’t match. The pictures in the ad are completely different compared to the property in reality. This shows that the landlord can’t be trusted.

How to Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

legitimate landlord
Happy young couple hold each otherâ??s hands listening to female agent, planning wedding, consulting investment advisor, hearing good news, casual marriage registration, buying real estate
Go through some more tips on how to protect yourself from rental frauds:
  • 1. Always visit the property. If you’re unavailable, ask someone to view it on your behalf or insist on a virtual tour. Never rent a property that you haven’t seen yourself.
  • 2. Verify who really owns the rental place. Check city records to find out if the landlord you’re communicating with is the actual owner and renter of the property.
  • 3. Rent from reliable rental agencies.
  • 4. Avoid making payments in cash, through wire transfer, or in cryptocurrency. These methods are hard to trace.
  • 5. Be wary of who you give out your personal information and details to.

What Do I Do If I Got Scammed?

Although there isn’t much to be done once the scam happened, still report it. There are a couple of options on how to do it:
  • 1. Notify the local authorities about the crime and provide as much information as possible to help them track the scammer.
  • 2. Report the scam to the website containing the fake rental ad.

Final Thoughts

With all the stress around the new home searching, moving out, and moving in, fear of coming across a scam is an extra concern that you, as a renter, do not need.  Lucky for you, when armed with all the necessary information and advice on rental frauds and scammers, you can definitely protect yourself and your wallet.  Our helpful guide on housing is always here to remind you of all potential risks and how to avoid a rental scam.  
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