Could the flatshare or rental advertisement you’re looking at be a scam? How can you tell?
I’ve been on the hunt for a new place to live in London. After spotting my old room on the SpareRoom website I naturally thought this was a pretty sound place to start my search.
After trawling through adverts for flatshares, I was drawn to one particular ad. The photos of the house and room were stunning, located in the swish Knightsbridge neighbourhood, and a weekly rent of £170. It seemed all too good to be true.
Room from rent
Ad: One bedroom with sophisticated bespoke interiors. Stunningly bright reception room with ample dining space. Light kitchen with contemporary fixtures and fittings. Boasting ultra modern interiors with ample living and entertaining space.
I quickly messaged the ‘Live in Landlord’ named ‘Sarah’ to ask for a viewing. I asked Sarah if the rental price was correct, the reply was short, she ignored my suspicion and insisted we take the conversation off the website and on to email.
A day later, I received an email, but this time from ‘Rachel Ryan’:
Hello, I am the owner of the apartment located in Knightsbridge, London. The room‘s available for rent at £765 per month, bills included. The apartment is in a very good condition, very clean and completely livable (sic). I know that the asking rent is lesser then the average price requested in that area but not using a letting agent and not paying fees and commissions allows me to ask a lower rental price than others. The kitchen is furnished and everything is included in the rental price. I have spent a great amount of money with the apartment and my request is that you treat it like it is your own. I have the house keys with me. When I do find a tenant I will return to London.
Alarm bells started to ring after reading this email, her use of English wasn’t great and she wasn’t currently living in the UK.
The email signature she had used included a work address, so I traced the company and called them. It was no surprise when I was told that no one with that name worked there.
I then searched for her Facebook profile, but she only had four friends. I did a reverse image search on her profile picture and found that the real person in that photo lived in Canada.
All the evidence suggested that this wasn’t legitimate, so I confronted her with my findings in an email. Needless to say, I haven’t heard from her since.
Reporting a suspicious advert
Suspicious rental ads like this are normally set the trap with luxury looking rooms and a ludicrous cheap price to lure you in. I reported this incident to SpareRoom and the ad was removed.
When we reached out to SpareRoom, they told us:
We have a dedicated full time team of moderators at SpareRoom whose sole purpose is to keep scams and spam out of our listings. Every ad is scanned by a complex set of bespoke filters to look for triggers and key signals, then everything is checked manually.
In a few rare instances, the warning signs don’t come till a user contacts an advertiser, so having people report anything suspicious helps us weed out those few.
I also decided to share my story on Facebook, a couple of days later I received a message from someone who had also been in touch with the same advertiser. The only difference was he got further than me.
We just dealt with her for the same place, she asked us to a Western Union transfer. When I called Western Union they picked it up as scam and put the transaction on hold. I have been speaking to her on the phone for the past few days. We were meant to see the property tomorrow morning.
Thankfully, both of us avoided losing cash, but I hope no one else was fooled by this advert.
I’m yet to find a nice place to move in to, but I’m being much more vigilant when looking through the ads, and I’m making good use of my Sherlock Holmes-style detective work when in doubt.
Have you or someone you know experienced something similar when searching for a place to rent?