According to the Daily Telegraph, fake landlords are raking in around £775 million a year from would-be tenants. Police have also reported a rise in the number of scams reported to them, although experts suspect these cases are only the tip of the iceberg, as many victims are too embarrassed to report it when they get scammed.
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Scammers often use Gumtree to advertise fake properties. Ads look genuine, with smart photos and property details, but the actual property doesn’t exist. Once a victim shows an interest, they are invited to transfer a deposit to secure the property. Unfortunately, once the money has been transferred, the landlord then disappears. When the tenant arrives for a viewing or to collect the keys, they can’t contact the fake landlord and they have no way of getting their money back.
Overseas students are more likely to be scammed in this way, as they usually search for suitable properties from abroad, but anyone is vulnerable.
“Scammers have become highly sophisticated and it isn’t always easy to spot fake or misleading ads – even manually reviewing adverts can still allow some bogus ads to slip through the net,” says Nick Marr from property website, The House Shop.
“To be honest, I think it’s a bit of a dirty little secret in the industry, because we all know that this is going on, but no one wants to step up and talk about it openly because they don’t want to admit that fraud is happening on their website.”