/ Home & Energy

Rental scams: a tale too good to be true

Flat rent advert

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?

Comments
Member

Very interesting and a good warning to all. The reverse picture search – could you share this technique with readers?

Member

Hey, sure thing.

There are two ways.

1. Go to Google and select images, then click on the little camera icon to upload your image.

2. Go to https://www.tineye.com and the it’s a similar process as above.

Hope that helps.

Member

Hello all, thanks Sean for writing this. This is the full statement SpareRoom have shared with us in response to Sean’s story:

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.

Sean’s experience and the Facebook message contain some classic scam warning triggers, so it’s useful to unpick them a little.

Here are a few things to look out for:

1) ‘It seemed all too good to be true’ – this is the simplest warning sign. If something seems to good to be true it’s almost always because it is – trust your instincts.

2) ‘She ignored my suspicion and insisted we take the conversation off the website and on to email’ – There are two things in here. Firstly, the question Sean asked about the accuracy of the ad was brushed over, and, secondly, the landlord suggested taking the conversation onto email. That’s fine, but one of the benefits of keeping things within the SpareRoom messaging system, at least till you’re sure things are moving forward, is that we can monitor messages for any other red flags. That doesn’t mean we read messages, just that anything suspicious triggers a flag we can then investigate. It also means if we find an ad is a scam we can contact everyone who’s been messaging the advertiser to warn them.

3) ‘A day later, I received an email, but this time from ‘Rachel Ryan’’ – Inconstancies are always cause for concern and should make you think twice, especially with fundamental things like the name of the person you’re speaking to.

4) ‘Her use of English wasn’t great’ – this in itself isn’t an issue but if the language deteriorates quickly compared to the ad it could be a sign of a scam.

5) ‘She asked us to a Western Union transfer’ – you should never use services like Western Union to send money to people you don’t know as they’re entirely untraceable.

6) ‘We were meant to see the property tomorrow morning, she made up a reason on the phone and said let’s do it next week’ – if a landlord makes us an excuse why you can’t see the property before you pay anything then walk away. Never hand over any cash until you’ve seen the property and met the landlord. If that’s not possible, for example if you’re moving from one area to another, be extra vigilant in checking all the other possible signs of a scam and, if in doubt, call SpareRoom’s customer services team.

Member
satish says:
24 March 2016

How can a landlord check tenant reference and ability to pay rent and any tips on advertising