The internet is filled with fraudsters, from housing scams to people impersonating the government. Check out these top tips to keep yourself safe from scams!
How Scam Savvy Are You?
Did you know that Ofcom, the UK's Office for Communications, ran a study that showed 87% of participants had come across online fraud and scams, with nearly half of them being drawn into a scam?
The internet is full of scams; fraudsters and con artists, many of whom take advantage of students who have just arrived at university or the UK. I know personally how bad it can feel to have been cheated out of money, so to make sure that you are equipped to spot and avoid scams, here are some top tips to keep safe.
- The advert is full of mistakes - Before talking to anyone about renting a property or buying something second-hand, make sure you know the listing is real. Most scam adverts are full of spelling mistakes; too much punctuation or random capital letters. If it doesn't look professional, be cautious.
- The price looks too good to be true - If you are looking at a property to rent and the price is well below the average for the area, it is likely that scammers are trying to get lots of people interested before asking for a deposit upfront. It doesn't make any sense for a landlord to charge a lot less money than others as that's their income, so treat cheap prices sceptically.
- Avoid using Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree - The lack of regulation on these platforms means it's easy for scammers to put up fake listings. They're also free to put listings up, whereas sites like Rightmove or Zoopla charge landlords and letting agents to post on them, making them far safer.
- Not being able to view the property in person - This is a huge red flag! If you aren't able or allowed to see the property in advance of signing contracts or handing over money, it's more than likely the listing is a scam. Your place to live is extremely important and you should always be given (and insist on being) able to see the property first, or at minimum a virtual viewing/walkthrough. This goes for buying something second-hand too. Don't hand over any money until you see what you're buying and that it works!
- There is no screening process for tenants - Real landlords and letting agencies will run checks on potential tenants before agreeing to rent to them. This will be so they know you are who you say you; have the right to rent in the UK and will be able to afford the rent money. If they don't ask to run background checks on you, this is a warning sign.
- They are pressuring you to pay too fast - Scammers will often insist that you need to pay a deposit in advance to "secure" the property or to "reserve" it. Never pay anything until you have a legitimate contract in place. Do not transfer money if you feel either pressured or uncomfortable doing so. If you are being asked to transfer money via services like Western Union or Moneygram, that is another big red flag as that money will be sent internationally. Genuine landlords living overseas will use a letting agency to manage their property and finances.
- You can't meet the landlord/letting agent in person - Real advertisers will want to meet you in person to make sure you are real, just as you want to make sure they are too. If they don't want to, assume they are hiding something.
- There isn't a tenancy agreement - Verbal or email agreements are not legally binding and cannot be trusted. Always make sure you have a real tenancy agreement and read it thoroughly, and understand it. Once it's signed make sure you have a copy too. Your tenancy agreement will also outline your responsibility as a tenant as well as the landlord's to you. Check out our tenant's guide to learn more about what goes into a real agreement.
- You can't find the landlord on any of the tenancy deposit schemes - All UK landlords MUST be registered as part of one of three deposit protection schemes, or a DPS. One way to check the legitimacy of a landlord is to ask which scheme they are registered with and then check if they actually are. They may be posing as a member of staff at a real letting agency, so make sure you get a name and verify if they actually are working for who they say they are! You can see which schemes exist on this UK government website.
You can test your knowledge and see if you are scam savvy by taking the Take Five quiz.
We can't spot every scam, and every day they are getting cleverer, so what can you do if you fall victim to a scam?
- If you think you've been scammed, call your bank straight away. They might be able to stop the transfer from happening.
- Report what happened to Action Fraud - the UK national reporting centre for any cases of fraud.
- The Citizens Advice Bureau helps people with all problems, from rights at work to immigration. Their advice is free; impartial and independent of the government, and you can call them directly on 01223 222660.
- You can also join ACORN a community and renters union that specialise in helping keep each other safe from dodgy landlords and bad practices.