Tenants and landlords are being urged to beware of scams with reports of rental fraud involving fake landlords and letting agents on the rise.
The National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agents Team, which oversees the sales and rentals side of the industry, has issued a warning about the increase in crime.
The NTSELAT, which is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said scams have been an issue for several years.
Criminals post as landlords or letting agents
Alison Farrar, NTSELAT operations manager, told Letting Agent Today: “Criminals often place fake adverts for properties to let, or respond to flat-hunters’ posts, claiming they have the perfect property.
Rise in virtual viewings
The coronavirus pandemic has made it easier for criminals, with a rise in virtual viewings due to restrictions on in-person visits and people's understandable reluctance to meet face-to-face and enter strangers' homes.
Ms Farrar said: “Before the pandemic made this easier for them, criminals would use a variety of excuses to explain why the property could not be viewed, claiming they were out of the country, or that a tenant was in the process of moving out.
'It was a scam to get me to part with money'
The warning follows problems for London-based Base Property Specialists, which has complained to NTSELAT about another firm with a similar name, which, according to Letting Agent Today, has reportedly stolen listings from several agencies and tried to pass them off as their own.
She said she was approached after posting on Facebook looking for a property to rent, with a man claiming to be working on behalf of a landlord and asking to correspond on WhatsApp.
She said: "We realised the person claiming to be acting for the landlord had nothing to do with the property at all. It was a scam to get me to part with money under the guise that I was securing the property with the landlord directly."
Research before handing over cash
Ms Farrar said: "The NTSELAT urges tenants to research any letting agency, landlord and property before agreeing to hand over any money.
“It’s advisable to research the agent on lots of review sites and use the internet if possible to check the property is genuine.
"It’s also important to check whether the agent needs to have redress or client money protection membership, with different requirements in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.”