Why that sweet grandmother renting out her flat on Facebook may be luring you into a trap
...as Charlie, 31, found to his cost when he replied to an ad
CHARLIE TEMPLE had nearly given up on his search for a short-term property rental when a friendly looking grandmother messaged him on Facebook to say she had a one-bedroom flat to rent in east London.
The 31-year-old sales manager had made a public post on the social media platform days before in a final bid to find his new home.
Charlie — whose name we’ve changed at his request — had just four weeks to find somewhere before his current contract came to an end. He needed a three-month tenancy to tide him over while he bought a house. Searching for a short-term let for him and his border terrier was proving tricky so he was delighted when the message popped up on his phone.
But little did he know, replying to the message would lead him and his dog to become homeless and £3,500 out of pocket. Charlie was being tricked into one of the fastest growing scams in Britain — the rental scam. More than 5,400 hopeful tenants have been scammed out of deposits for non- existent rental properties in the past year, according to Action Fraud.
However, this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, with the majority of scams going unreported.
The message Charlie clicked on appeared to be from an older woman who, in her profile picture, was posing with her granddaughter. ‘Hey there. I have something for you. It is a lovely, fully fitted, well-furnished and spacious onebedroom flat and the nearest station is Stepney Green. Rent is
£ 1,900 and includes bills. The deposit is £1,600.’
He replied to say he was interested and asked to see pictures. They showed a typical London flat — eggshell-coloured walls, mismatched furniture from past tenants but clean and spacious.
‘The flat ticked a lot of boxes,’ Charlie says. ‘ The landlady even accepted dogs, which is hard to find. The pictures looked great and it was within my budget so I told her I would love to view it.’
He was apparently told the current tenants were carrying out viewings and Charlie should speak to them directly to arrange one. ‘I messaged the tenant and she said her mother was in hospital so she was away for a while but her husband could take a quick video of the apartment before he joined her in caring for her mother.’
Charlie carried out his own background checks before proceeding.
He googled the landlady and looked through all of her old Facebook posts to reassure himself that she was genuine.
He asked both the landlady and the tenant for the address — their answers matched up, which gave him peace of mind that the offer was legitimate. The 31-year- old, who was due to travel for work a few days later, took his dog for a walk-by to check out the area.
Satisfied with the pictures, the video and the area, he agreed to take the apartment for three months from June to the end of August. He was sent a contract, which he signed and he paid the £1,600 deposit. But a week later while away, he received a message to say there was a problem with the deposit scheme — further verification was required.
To secure the flat, he would now have to pay an additional £1,900. ‘I didn’t feel comfortable doing this but I needed somewhere to live so I tried to negotiate. I wanted to see the flat before paying any more money but I was out of the country for a few weeks. She was quite pushy and said she would have to find another tenant if I couldn’t prove I wanted it.’
Charlie spoke to the lady over the phone and following the call, received a copy of her passport as proof of her identity.
‘Before sending the money I stalked her — I searched her name and all the email addresses on the contract. I searched her address in West London and it all checked out. She said she was a doctor and that’s what I found online. I was satisfied and transferred £1,900. We agreed that as soon as I landed, she would meet me at the property with the property manager.’
Charlie went straight from the airport to the apartment and rang the bell but there was no answer. After a half-hour wait, a young woman approached the door with a set of keys. ‘I asked if she was the current tenant. She was but she said she hadn’t any plans to move out any time soon. I asked if there was maybe an upstairs flat.
‘It was only when she said it is a three-bedroom house that I realised I’d been conned. I felt like a complete muppet and was annoyed I had fallen for it.’ Fraudsters
have flooded social media with dodgy adverts and fake property listings to exploit the red-hot rental market. Tenants have faced huge competition to secure homes, with Rightmove reporting there were 20 viewings for each rental property listing in the summer.
Charlie says: ‘ It was near impossible to find a flat.’ He had just one week to find a new flat and resorted to renting out a home on website Airbnb, which tends to be more expensive than typical short-term lets.
The sales manager reported the fraud with his bank, Starling, and he received a full reimbursement within eight weeks. He was told the woman who he believed he was speaking to was likely to have been hacked — and her identity stolen.
Facebook’s online trading platform Marketplace has become a hotbed for rental scams. The website has exploded in popularity as an increasing number of people have taken to posting their homes on the website as an easier way of connecting with prospective tenants. Today, the trading site’s second-largest category is adverts for properties to rent.
A spokesman for Starling Bank says: ‘We do everything we can to protect our customers from fraud. Where Meta [which owns Facebook] is facilitating and enabling fraud, they should be made responsible and bear the cost of reimbursing the customer.’
Money Mail’s campaign Stop The Social Media Scammers is calling on tech giants, including Facebook, to take action now to better protect users. A Meta spokesman says: ‘Facebook Marketplace is primarily a local listings service involving cash payments. Our platforms have systems to block scams. Financial services advertisers now have to be FCA authorised and we run consumer awareness campaigns.’