Student Accommodation Fraud Warning
Seasonal rental fraud is an emerging trend with students looking for suitable accommodation before the start of the new term.
Fraudsters will use a variety of free advertising websites such as Gumtree to advertise ‘available’ properties in very convenient locations at very attractive rates.
Rental scams work by asking the prospective tenant for deposits, or in some cases full payment upfront, in order to prove that funds are available for the duration of the rental period, or to secure the property prior to actually visiting it, usually by some form of money transfer.
In some cases, fraudsters have been able to gain access to properties and take prospective tenants around, giving them the impression that the properties are vacant and under their control.
There have also been cases of fraudsters renting out properties that have already been rented out, or have been rented to multiple victims at the same time. Any payments made will be lost and the ‘landlord’ will have disappeared.
Coventry Trading Standards have produced a list of tips in order for prospective tenants to protect themselves:
- Never send money upfront - Make certain the person and property exists and the person has control of the property. Paying a deposit is standard in renting; paying money upfront to secure one is not. The safest way to pay is by a credit card in person at the letting agent’s office where a formal contract should also be signed before any money has changed hands.
- Check the legitimacy of the advert – Avoid adverts that do not give the address of the property.
- Be aware of adverts with no telephone numbers or where the only email address is a free one –Look for UK based telephone numbers but be wary of numbers starting with 070 (or +4470) which are non-geographic business numbers.
- Visit the house you intend to rent – Meet the landlord there to confirm that the property is bona fide. Be suspicious of anyone who refuses to let you visit the property. Also ask for copies of tenancy agreements and any safety certificates such as Gas, Electricity or HMO (Houses in Multiple Occupation) Licence.
- Ask the Landlord for ID – If you have any suspicions, ask to see their driving licence to establish they are who they say they are.
- Do not proceed if asked to transfer money via money transfer agents such as Western Union, Money Gram or Paysafe –The safest way to make a payment is at the letting agent’s office by credit card and make sure you are given a formal signed contract before any money changes hands.
- Check to see if the owner is a member of rental schemes - Look for accreditation membership such as National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS), Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA).
- Protect your deposit – When a deposit is taken other than a “holding deposit”, the money must be paid into a Government approved deposit scheme. Further information can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/private-renting
- Use your common sense – If the property is too cheap and looks fantastic then it’s probably too good to be true.
International Student scam warning
Trading Standards have also been made aware of a scam affecting international students. Whilst there have been no reports locally, it is important that international students are made aware of this.
A caller claiming to be from the Home Office tells students that they are in possession of confidential information and they have not paid for an immigration service. The caller tells the student that as a result of this there is a fine to pay or they will be reported to the police or Home Office.
People who have been targeted have reported that the fraudsters become increasingly insistent and verbally aggressive, resulting in them feeling coerced into making a payment.
If you receive a call like this, do not make any payment. The Home Office does not issue financial penalties.
More information on this scam, including how you should respond.