Most students living away from home will need to find living accommodation. And where better to do this than one of the many online property services advertising properties to rent? There is just one problem though. That property you really love, may not actually exist!
There is a growing problem of criminals advertising fictional properties and asking for money up front as a condition of viewing. Needless to say, any money paid over is lost forever. The problem is getting so bad that the Metropolitan Police have issued a warning, which you can read here.
We had a really useful guest post recently from Dave Dugdale on how to catch a rental scammer, and this is well worth reading. However, specifically for students, I would add a few other points:
- Never pay money in respect of a property you have not seen
- Only use landlords and agencies recommended by your college or university, or someone you trust
- Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into anything. If you feel under pressure, or uneasy about a property or landlord, look for somewhere else
- And finally, if something looks too good to be true – it probably is!
If you want to check up on a property or landlord, there are a few things you can do:
- Do some searches on the landlords name (or his company’s name) on Google – you never know what you may find!
- Do a search at the Land Registry – this will show you the registered owner of the property and whether it has a lot of loans registered against it (a lot of loans may mean that the landlord is more likely to default on his mortgage payments, leaving you liable to be evicted by the mortgage company)
- If the landlord is a limited company, do a search at Companies House to check that it exists
However the most important thing is to be very careful and not to hand over any money unless you are absolutely certain that you are dealing with a reputable landlord or agent.
Incidentally, if you find out that an online ad is suspicious, the property web-site hosting it would probably like to know! They don’t want misleading adverts on their site as it reflects badly on them. For example, property website Upad has introduced a ‘report ad’ function, which you can use to alert them to a suspicious advert. Other portals may have something similar or at least a mailto link you can use.
If you have any other tips, or stories about fraudsters targeting students (or anyone else for that matter) please do leave a comment.