Watch our for social media rental scams

It has been reported that rental scams involving fake landlords and bogus lettings agents are now on the increase and, as a recent case study highlights, it’s something all landlords and tenants should remain wary of.

The recent announcement comes from the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agents Team (NTSELAT), which is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and is primarily responsible for protecting consumers and businesses through the enforcement of regulation. It has stated that 'scams are now rife in the private lettings sector with criminals placing fake adverts for properties to let, or they respond to flat-hunters’ posts, claiming they have the perfect property'. 

According to Alison Farrar, NTSELAT operations manager: “The criminals pose as landlords or letting agents and offer properties to rent, taking holding deposits, security deposits and other fees up front without allowing the prospective tenant to see the property, often stealing photos and property details from unsuspecting genuine agents’ websites. This can cause a number of problems for the genuine businesses who have suffered harm to their identity and reputation, as well as costing thousands to unsuspecting potential tenants”.

It’s what nearly happened to a tenant of another estate agency division, Reeds Rains, as she explains: 

“I decided to post a note on Facebook to ask if anyone knew of a property to rent and soon received a response from someone who led me to believe that he was working on behalf of a landlord.

He asked me to correspond via WhatsApp and, after asking me various questions, quickly responded to the answers I gave and then presented me with photos and details of an ‘ideal’ property. He talked informatively about the rent and deposit which he claimed would be refundable. He then said he had the keys to the property and if I wanted to view it I’d simply need to send some information to him so he could prepare the tenancy agreement.  He said no-one else had shown interest in it and claimed he was in Dublin, with family, due to Covid-19, but that he’d send the keys from there - all with the assurance that they could be tracked during transit.  It was very, very convincing.

Luckily I’d already seen the property on the agent’s website and, because I was now thinking seriously about renting it, I contacted them to gain their opinion and to question why no-one was showing an interest in it? I’m so glad I did.

We immediately realised that the person claiming to be acting for the landlord had nothing to do with the property at all. It was a scam to get me to part with money under the guise that I was securing the property with the landlord directly.

I’m so pleased I checked it out and would definitely recommend not posting social media posts to find a property. I know that I wasn’t the only tenant that evening that the person was contacting and just hope that others didn’t part with their money, because it’s unlikely they will see it again.”

As advice to tenants, Alison Farrar of the NTSELAT added:

“The National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team would urge all tenants to research any letting agency, landlord and property before agreeing to hand over any money. It’s advisable to research the agent on lots of review sites and use the internet if possible to check the property is genuine.”

And, at LetCo, we reiterate that we would never ask for payment via social media. We will NEVER ask you to make a payment for anything via social media or ask you to share information from your payment cards with us in this way. We have strict processes for this sort of transaction which only operate via colleagues in our branches. If you are ever unsure about whether any contact from us is genuine, please contact your local branch yourself by phone and speak to one of the team. 

Should you be searching for a property to let, we recommend you contact us for support or search for properties to rent on our website rather than seeking to find one yourself via social media – which could potentially expose you to criminal activity.

If you think you have been/are being affected by a rental scam, please gain support from Action Fraud via its website or by phoning 0300 123 2040. Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime where you should report fraud if you have been scammed, defrauded or experienced cybercrime.