Q. I recently tried to rent a property privately through a newspaper advertisement. Having transferred all my move in money it turns out that the person I assumed was the Landlord does not even own the property! Needless to say I have been seriously scammed and this is now in the hands of the police. I had no idea this could happen so easily especially as I am usually such a streetwise kind of person. What can I do to prevent this type of thing happening again?
A. Rental fraud is not a new phenomenon, but it has increased significantly since the introduction of the internet, rising by 92% in the last two years. The latest figures from The National Fraud Authority estimate rental fraud resulted in £755 million losses to individuals in 2012 – serious stuff! Many frauds involve direct adverts such as the one you replied to on the internet placed by criminals posing as the landlord of a property they do not own. Some victims of this crime may be asked to transfer money to secure the property before they have even viewed. Others have actually been shown around a property by scammers that have illegally accessed the property and then disappear such as in your case once the deposit has been handed over. With home ownership falling to its lowest percentage in nearly a quarter of a century, the huge increase of private tenants is providing these types of fraudsters with endless opportunities to cheat tenants. The problem is particularly bad in London and the south east where there is a growing shortage of rental properties. And even letting agents can be vulnerable to this type of fraud if they do not remain vigilant. If you want to continue renting privately without the use of an agent there are many things you can do to protect yourself and prevent this type of fraud happening again. First of all before any money exchanges any hands try checking the title to the property via the Land Registry website for £3, you can find out who the registered owner of the property is at www.landregistry.gov.uk Ask the landlord to see photographic ID and proof of address and check the information matches that on the Land Registry records. Ask to see a copy of the EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) as a legal requirement for Landlords he should have no problem producing this if he is legitimate. Of course using an estate agent that is a member of ARLA (Association of Residential Lettings) would be a safer option as by default they would have carried out the necessary checks before bringing a property to the market to ensure that the Landlord is who he says he is. Obviously an agent will charge an administration cost for their services which you may avoid by renting privately but at what cost? The extra charge to use an agent will at least give you the peace of mind needed after such a bad experience and ensure this type of thing is prevented should you decide to rent again.