Fake landlords taking viewing deposits - How to avoid getting scammed
Jan 09, 2024 01:19
Firstly, only viewing the property with a fake landlord is a very bad idea. It's a scam! If you have any reason to think it might be a scam, then it probably is. Even if not, be prepared that some scammers will put on an act of being unable to meet you or wanting to travel from France for example, and some may even claim they're out of the country as an excuse. In general however there are three types of scammers: those who can't show you around because they live far away, those who don't want to let you see the property because it's too awful or damaged (so why did they bother photographing it?) and those who simply lack imagination and make up a phoney story about why they need your money up front. If it's a fake apartment viewing, how can you tell? Here are some signs:
- They stress that they 'can't show you around' and often even say the property is empty - this is because no-one lives in the property and there isn't actually anything to show you. It doesn't matter if the ad says "fully furnished" or "ready to move in", if nobody lives there then there's nothing that needs showing! Remember, just because something looks like a sofa or bed, that doesn't mean it IS one. Sometimes photos of real furniture get stolen from other people's ads on Craigslist etc and put into new ones by scammers (it happens more than you'd think) - if they're willing to steal photos, then other parts of the ad could also be copied from elsewhere.
- They demand money up front despite promising that they'll send you the contract first and arrange a viewing second - this is because there never was going to be a contract or viewing! If someone asks for money before anything else happens, it should set alarm bells ringing. Remember you can always walk away from a property viewing without losing any cash. You might find their excuses too convincing but remember, if somebody is trying so hard to convince you not to meet them in person, something must be wrong!
- Their English isn't great - while this doesn't necessarily mean anything, it's often an indicator that they might not be the owner of the property. Remember, if it seems too good to be true then it probably is! They're often asking for you to send them money via Western Union or Moneygram which are cash transfer services that are very hard to trace - you can usually only get your money back if you have proof of sending it and if they don't provide any details about themselves that can help with this. There's also no protection against sending money in case anything goes wrong so it's basically a complete gamble on whether you'll ever see your deposit again.
- Their email address makes no sense - example: [email protected] . Are they really so bad at making up fake adverts that they can't even make up a good email address? If it seems implausible, then it probably is!
- They are travelling abroad - this could be true but if someone really wanted to meet you in person before sending the contract, they'd arrange to do that.
- You're given excuses for not being able to send texts or talk on the phone - scammers will often shut down communication lines to avoid you asking too many questions. They might say anything from their phone getting stolen in an earthquake (happens surprisingly frequently!) through to needing surgery in Nigeria and being unable to communicate until months later! It really doesn't matter what excuse they give, there's no reason why you shouldn't be allowed to call them.
- They make no mention of their address - if they don't want you to visit them at home, why not? Remember that even if you're viewing a fake apartment it's still worth confirming the address with Google Streetview just to be sure. If it doesn't look right then there might be an explanation for that but still be on your guard!
- You have requested money for flights or visa costs on arrival in their country - scammers often admit upfront that you won't need this so don't fall for excuses like "it may take up to six weeks for my lawyer to sort out the contract" or "I would prefer it if you could send me £500 via Western Union first as I can get it faster and I'm afraid of losing out on the £1,000 by buying a ticket and changing it later!"
- They refuse to give you their phone number - if they don't want to talk on the phone, why not? If they make up some excuse like "my battery died" or "the signal isn't good", don't believe them! It's such a common scam that they can't possibly be telling the truth.
- They're currently abroad - if somebody doesn't live where this property is supposed to be then there's no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to view it in person! Even if everything else looks fine about their advert, this one sign should send alarm bells. After all, what are the chances of you having a property that's better suited to somebody who's currently on holiday?
- They refuse to give you their location - if they don't want anybody to know where they're from, why not? A simple Google search will tell you exactly where they're writing from (and if it doesn't look right then there might be an explanation for that but still be on your guard!). Even if all else looks fine about their advert, this one sign should send alarm bells. After all, what are the chances of you having a property that's better suited to somebody who wants to stay completely anonymous?
- You can see on Facebook that they live in another country - scammers often use pictures and information copied verbatim from somebody else's Facebook page - so if they have a profile that makes it clear they don't live in the country where you are, this is another sign of a scam. Even if you do live in the same place, why would they offer to pay for your flights? There will never be any reason to request money with travel costs when viewing properties this way!
- They ask for money upfront or before sending an e-contract - their excuse can be anything from "my solicitor needs some payment up front" through to "somebody is arriving here with all our legal documents tomorrow morning and they need paying by tonight" but there really should be no reason at all why they can't send over everything in one go. If someone is legitimate, they will make sure you know where everything is and how to access it. And if they're using an e-contract (a document written by the agent rather than one written out by hand), it should all be released to you as soon as your payment clears - not before!
- They give an alternative way of paying them - if somebody asks for anything other than the direct bank transfer then alarm bells should really start ringing. Of course, people can occasionally have reasons for wanting things paid in different ways but there will never be a good reason given. If they are genuine, this just won't happen - so think twice about every excuse they come up with!
- They avoid answering your questions - scammers often spend a lot of time asking you questions about who you are and what your property is like but they never want to talk about themselves. They might even go as far as pretending that the scam has been reported on before (it hasn't - this scam is new) and ask for a copy of all your personal documents so they can check them for authenticity!
- They tell you not to tell anybody about their deal - if somebody tells you it's "best we keep quiet" or "I don't want anyone else getting my share", alarm bells should ring again. Saying somebody won't want their friends or family finding out will almost always be an excuse to prevent somebody from spotting the warning signs. The only reason somebody would ever say something like this is because they know you're on to them so it's best not to tell anyone else.
- They don't want you to visit - if somebody wants to rent your property but doesn't want anybody visiting their home, alarm bells should ring again. This is industry standard for legitimate landlords and tenants - why would somebody who has nothing to hide avoid viewing other properties in person? Even if the scammer does manage to get your money, they will never leave you alone afterwards!
- They don't use the website's messaging system - while most people who are genuine will be happy doing business online (after all, that's how it works!), there aren't many reasons why somebody wouldn't make contact this way. For example, they might have been asked to send over an e-contract that's written in a different language or they might just be too lazy to go through the messaging system. In any case, somebody is always better off using official website messages as they can't hide behind excuses - and they're suspicious if somebody isn't willing to use them!
- They talk about being from another country - scammers will often tell you that they've "been away" or have been travelling for a couple of years so their English isn't very good. If somebody is a native English speaker but doesn't want you to know where they live because it's none of your business, alarm bells should start ringing! You don't need to ask somebody where they live before you decide to let them live in your property - they know that nobody ever asks this question!
- They try to put you off by saying it's not a good time for them - scammers will often tell you it's "not a good time" for them right now which always rings alarm bells. There are very few times when somebody won't be able to make arrangements because it's the school holidays or their wife has gone away on business or anything like that. If somebody really can't fit in your viewing, they'll make sure you know about it as soon as possible so there isn't any confusion!
So if anybody tries any of these excuses with you, just send over their e-contract and say no . Do not give in to their excuses because they're just that - excuses . If somebody really can't meet you when you say, they'll let you know ASAP so there's no confusion. Their reasons may not be genuine but what is certain is that nothing good will come from giving them a viewing!