BBC researchers recently conducted an investigation that confirmed an alarming rise in rental fraud.
Scammers offer flats for rent at dirt-cheap rates, and ask to instant deposits to ‘hold’ the properties. But the catch is that they do not actually own the homes, and the would-be tenants are out of their money.
Rental fraud reports in England and Wales reached an all-time high of 3.193 last year, up from 2,216 in 2014.
BBC researchers pretended to be prospective tenants to expose the schemes used by phoney landlords.
One tried to use EasyRoomMate, a flat-sharing website, to place a luxury apartment in Kensington for only £700 per month, which is far below the going rate. One estate agent located in northwest London said that a garage could not be rented for that amount in Kensington.
A BBC researcher contacted ‘Luise’, a woman presenting herself as the flat’s owner. She urged them to wire her a deposit of £1,400. To convince them that the offer was genuine, the scam artist even emailed a contract and a passport image.
Land Registry documents confirmed that she was not the actual owner of a property at that address, where all flats also happened to be inhabited. The BBC also established that the scammer had stolen the identity of a German woman.
‘Gary’, another fraudster, offered a Willesden period flat for an amount well below the market rate, and tried to convince the BBC researcher to wire him £1,500. The property was actually inhabited by Italian students who did not know any Gary’.
Although ‘Gary’ claimed that he lived in London, his IP address originated in Lagos, Nigeria. When confronted by telephone, he replied that he knew nothing about that (Nigerian IP) and that there was no fraud involved.
‘Luise’, who had a UK IP, put the phone down on her callers.
The banking institutions where both fraudsters hold accounts have been made aware of the situation.
One victim of this rental fraud is Nikola Poncet, a student who occupies a small bedsit in Luton. He sent £600 in response to a fraudulent advert for a flat in Queen’s Park, west London. Mr. Poncet admitted that he had been willing to take the flat without seeing it beforehand because the price was a superb deal given the location.