Six close friends have each lost £1,600 in an online rental scam which is becoming increasingly common in big cities throughout the country. The six are all recent graduates who advertised in the small ads section of Gumtree for a home to rent in central London.
The graduates had earlier avoided a scam when they were contacted by a person who claimed to have the perfect flat but could not meet them in person. He sent pictures and asked for the cash to be wired to him. In that instance they suspected a fraud and continued looking for a flat without following the lead. Such incidents anger decent landlords, who rent out properties and protect themselves with landlord insurance, because the whole letting sector is brought into disrepute.
Harry Harris, one of the six, said “We were called by someone agreeing to meet, saying he owned a large house in central London. Two of our group went along and met the man, he seemed entirely plausible and the place seemed fantastic. Then we all met a woman who said she was the estate agent. These people were grade-A actors.
“They wanted a month’s rent and a deposit from each of us, which was normal. They wanted it in cash which seemed odd but they were plausible in every other respect so we went along with it.”
The penny finally dropped with them when the money was handed over and they all went to their new house only to find that the keys did not work. It was then that they found out the viewing of the house was only made possible because the keys had been falsely obtained from the genuine lettings agency.
“Suddenly these two con-artists didn’t answer their phone. We went to the police but of course the money’s gone.” stated Harris.
The type of incident is rising. The United Kingdom’s main property watchdog has received 5,000 complaints so far in 2010. Almost three quarters of the victims are students. Housing charity, Shelter, says the problem is much worse than anyone had previously thought.