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Avoiding accommodation scams

Avoiding accommodation scamsAccommodation fraud can leave you out of pocket and with nowhere to stay - so be aware of the risks, and find out how you can stay safe.

Risks to be aware of

Fake rentals

Faking a house is much easier than it sounds. Some fake landlords simply post an advert online for a house selected at random, often using details from a legitimate advert. In some cases, the scammer finds an empty property that they can get into. They might break in and change the locks, and even create fake documents to make it look like they own the house.

When someone decides to rent the property, the scammer charges them a holding deposit. But when the victim comes to collect the keys and move in, the 'landlord' has disappeared with their money.

This trick is particularly attractive to scammers because they can use it on lots of people at once: some victims have arrived on moving day to find several other people waiting to move into the same house.

'Proof of funds'

Some fraudulent landlords ask victims to transfer money to a friend and send proof of the transfer. They say that this proves that you have the money you need to rent the property - but in fact, the scammer plans to use the details such as the money transfer number on the receipt you give them to withdraw the money.

Illegal subletting

Normally, your landlord is the person who owns the property. If your landlord instead rents the property from the owner and then lets it out to you, this is called 'subletting'. This is only allowed in certain circumstances: if your landlord hasn't got permission from the person they rent from, for example, it's illegal.

In this situation, it's your landlord who is breaking the law, not you, so you shouldn't have to worry about legal repercussions. However, you might face eviction if the owner of the property takes action against your landlord, so your accommodation will be less secure.

Warning signs

There's no foolproof way to spot a scam, but be careful if you come across any of these warning signs:

  • A landlord who is pressuring you to make a decision quickly
  • A property that is much cheaper than others in the area
  • Contact information that doesn't work
  • A landlord using a free email address like Hotmail or Gmail
  • A landlord who claims to be away or unable to meet in person
  • A landlord who asks for money before you have seen the property

If you're suspicious, contact Citizens Advice or your university's accommodation office for help.

Staying safe

To reduce your chances of falling victim to fraud, follow these tips.

  • Never pay a holding deposit without visiting the property and assuring yourself that the landlord is legitimate.
  • You can check the registered owner of a property using the Land Registry website for a small fee
  • If you can, pay any holding deposit using a credit card at the office of a letting agent as this will give you extra protection if things go wrong - but make sure you have the cash to pay the resulting bill straight away.
  • Don't use money transfer services like Western Union to make payments: they offer very little protection and should only be used with people you trust.
  • Never agree to send money to a friend to prove that you have it.
  • If you do come across a scammer, cut off contact and report them immediately.
  • For students, property advertised through the university is usually safer.

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