Police are urging residents in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to be aware of rental fraud and remain vigilant when searching for properties online.
Rental fraud is a scam which sees would-be tenants tricked into paying an upfront fee to rent a property they have spotted on social media, such as Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree.
However, in reality, the property does not even exist, or it has already been rented out. In some cases, the property may have been rented to multiple victims at the same time.
The victim will typically lose the upfront fee, and potentially one months’ rent, and they are not able to rent the property they thought they were securing by sending the payment.
University students looking for accommodation are often targeted by rental fraudsters.
We would like to take this opportunity to remind people to be vigilant when renting, particularly when enquiring about property which has been advertised via social media.
Some ways that you can protect yourself from rental fraud are:
Do not send money to anyone advertising rental properties online until you are certain that the advertiser is genuine.
If you need to secure accommodation in the UK from overseas, seek the help of the employer or university you are coming to, or get a friend, another trusted contact or relative to check the property exists and is available.
Do not pay any money until you, or a reliable contact, has visited the property with an agent or the landlord.
Ask for copies of tenancy agreements and any safety certificates such as Gas Electricity or HMO Licence.
Do not be pressured into transferring large sums of money. Transfer funds to a bank account having obtained the details by contacting the landlord or agent directly after the above steps have been followed. Be sceptical if you are asked to transfer any money via a money transfer service like Western Union.
Detective Sergeant Marcus Mills, from the Economic Crime Unit, said: “With the rental market being incredibly competitive at the moment, people might be tempted to take more risks to secure a property.
“However, I would urge people to be cautious and make sure what you are seeing online is 100% legitimate.
“I would ask those looking for rental properties to be aware and report to us if you’ve seen or been involved in anything that has made you feel uncomfortable or suspicious.
“Until you’re certain that the advertiser is genuine, don’t send any money to anyone advertising rental properties online – remember this simple message: ‘My money? My info? I don’t think so’.”
If you have experienced something that seems suspicious, call 999 in an emergency. If you need to report something that is not urgent, you can do so by visiting the ‘report fraud’ section of our website.