What is a lettings scam?
Generally, a property scam is when prospective tenants are tricked into paying money upfront to rent a property that either does not exist, has already been rented or has been ‘rented’ to several victims. Victims end up losing their money and, in some cases, don’t find out they have been scammed until they turn up at the property expecting to move in.
These scams can take many different forms and, like other kinds of fraud, are becoming more sophisticated. Some common scenarios to watch out for include:
The landlord requests a deposit before committing to a viewing.
The landlord may request payment before viewing the property, usually providing a reason such as having been let down in the past so want to know you are serious about renting or having to travel a long way to show you the property. The ‘landlord’ will then stop communicating as soon as the money has been received, leaving the tenant out of pocket.
You are asked to make a payment through a secondary website.
You may find a property online and be sent a link (usually to a site you will recognise and trust e.g. AirBnb) to make the deposit and rent payment. This is another common scam, where the link you have been sent is actually a replica website, the money goes straight to the ‘landlord’ and the tenant doesn’t hear from them again.
Who is most at risk?
Anyone looking to rent a property – either long term or as a holiday let – can be a target for scammers. However, students are a particular target, especially those relocating from abroad who may be unfamiliar with the city and normal lettings procedures. There tends to be a spike in scams of this type around September, when students are rushing to secure last minute accommodation.
The shortage of rental properties available in Edinburgh works in the scammers favour; it is easier to pressurise a tenant into making a quick decision and hand over money when there are very limited options available to them.
As a tenant, the best way to protect yourself from scammers is to rent through a reputable letting agent. Look for agents who are regulated and check online reviews before giving your personal details or parting with any money.
Tips to avoid rental scams
1. View the property
Scams most commonly involve tenants who don't view the property before making a payment. In these cases it is likely that the scammer doesn't have access to the property - they may simply be using photographs from a genuine online advert - so the scam can be avoided by insisting that you see the property first.
2. Never pay before viewing
Although it is important to view the property, do not to be pressurised into paying a deposit before you do so. If the landlord or agent is demanding money before a viewing it is best to walk away.
3. Avoid cash payments
A deposit will be required for most rental properties and, depending upon your circumstance, possibly also advance payment of rent. Always avoid making this payment in cash, which is untraceable, even if you are offered a receipt. Also watch out for anyone asking you to use a money transferring service such as Western Union, these services tend to be used by scammers.
4. Check the Landlord Register
Landlords in Scotland must be registered. You can check that the property is registered and who owns the property on the Landlord Registration website. If you are dealing with a landlord directly you can ask to see a copy of their ID to check that the information matches.
5. Avoid subletting
Subletting is always risky for sub-tenants because you have no rights as a tenant unless you sign a contract. Most tenants do not have the right to sublet, and in doing so can terminate the lease. Always speak to the landlord or letting agent to have a new tenancy agreement drawn up.
6. Trust your instincts
Research the market, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always ask questions and only proceed if you are 100% sure that the situation is genuine.
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