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Tenants warned over rise in rental scams

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Tenants are being urged to watch out for fraudsters posing as landlords who con househunters out of their money.

The Western Union company, a global payments service, has today launched a consumer protection campaign warning house hunters of scams involving internet transactions for rental properties.

These scams usually involve criminals posing as landlords on classified websites, typically offering attractive-looking, good value properties to rent. When a prospective tenant contacts the fake landlord, they are told to transfer a deposit or application fee to secure the property.

Once this money is transferred, the prospective renter typically never hears from the “landlord” again and finds that the money has also disappeared.

Some “landlords” tell victims to send the money to a friend or family member, and provide them with proof of the transfer, to demonstrate that funds are available.

However, prospective renters should not use this as a security measure, as it is possible for fraudsters to intercept the money by forging the identity of the friend or family member to whom the money has been sent.

Western Union advises that people never use money transfer services to prove they have funds available.

This practice is by no means a new form of scam, but as increasing numbers of renters are locked out of property ownership, these types of scams catch people unawares.

Tony Neate, CEO of campaign group Get Safe Online, said: “There’s nothing wrong with using a classified ad site to find a new place to live as long as you keep your wits about you. Moving is stressful and when we find a property we love it’s easy to get carried away and act rashly.

“We would never encourage people to just blindly transfer money to someone they have never met for any kind of purchase so if a prospective landlord asks you to do this, say no. Always ask for identification and view the property inside and out before entering into an agreement or parting with any money. Simple things like this can stop you being duped by fraudsters and left out of pocket.”

Peter Barnes of Western Union said: “We have seen an increase in rental scams in the UK and it is important that those looking to rent or let property remain vigilant, particularly at this time of year, which is the peak rental season.

“Consumers can lower their chances of falling victim to fraud by following three key tips. Never use a money transfer service to send money to people you haven’t met in person, never provide your banking information to people or businesses you don’t know, and never use a money transfer service to prove you have funds available for a deposit or any purchase.”

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