Students reminded to be vigilant around rental and deposit fraud

Date published: 20 September 2023 08:33
Dated: 20 September 2023 09:32:54

Students looking for a new home to rent in Sheffield are being warned to be vigilant against rental and deposit fraud.

Rental fraud is when people are tricked into paying an upfront fee to rent a property. In reality, the property does not exist, has already been rented out, or has been rented to multiple victims at the same time.

With the city gearing up to welcome both new and returning students, our Fraud Coordination Team are urging those looking to secure accommodation for the new academic year not to fall foul of scammers.

DS Sam Erabadda, from the team, said: "In this scam students make enquiries in relation to properties advertised on social media and then contact the fraudster directly via social media messages.

"Once they agree to rent the property, the victim is asked to transfer the deposit and three months’ rent up front. In some cases, the fraudsters are using a reputable company name to convince the victim their server is down and therefore the payment has not gone through, and therefore they must make the payment again.

“After the victim has transferred the deposit and upfront rental payment, they are often sent a fake email receipt – at which stage, communication stops and they are no longer able to contact the supposed landlord. In some cases, victims are provided a move-in date, but when they get to the property, it is either already rented out or the occupants have lived at the address for a number of years.

“We know previously that students have been targeted through a number of social media platforms. We are reminding people to be extra careful when selecting your home to rent for the next academic year.”

Top tips on how to protect yourself:

  • Do not send money to anyone advertising rental properties online until you are certain the advertiser is genuine.
  • If you need to secure accommodation in the UK from overseas, seek the help of your university you are coming to, or get a friend, 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.

Once the above steps have been followed, it is important to also remember not be pressurised into transferring large sums of money. Transfer funds to a bank account having obtained the details by contacting the landlord or agent directly.

The University of Sheffield’s official student payments platform, for example, is operated by Western Union Business Solutions and provides a secure way for students to pay their fees to the university. Be sceptical if you’re asked to transfer any money to a landlord or agent via certain money transfer services. Fraudsters typically use companies such as Moneygram, Western Union (not to be confused with Western Union Business Solutions) or Wise, amongst others, to obtain your money.

DS Erabadda added: "It can be incredibly difficult to trace those responsible for this horrible scam and get your money back. That's why it's so important everyone spreads the word about this scam to prevent others from becoming victims."

If you think you have been a victim of rental fraud, report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or report online at actionfraud.police.uk

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