Sharp Increase in Rental Frauds as Con Artists Pose as Agents

The rising incidence of rental scams, with tricksters masquerading as letting agents, has become a cause for concern for renters in the private sector. National reports indicate an unsettling increase, showing 5,751 incidents of rental fraud last year, which averages to about 15 a day. This is a 23% rise in comparison to 2021.

Highlighting the seriousness of this issue, the BBC recently shared an unfortunate incident where an individual was conned out of £13,000 in a counterfeit agent deception.

22-year-old Eason Lee, a recent graduate eager to secure accommodation in London, found himself amidst intense competition due to the demand vastly surpassing the available housing supply. He and his friend became the unwitting victims of a meticulously planned rental scam, which cost them upwards of £13,000.

Describing his experience, Lee said, “I had one week to get a new place.” Having stumbled upon a listing for a two-bedroom flat in Stratford, east London, on OpenRent, they decided to view it. However, unbeknownst to them, they were interacting with fraudsters masquerading as agents under a legitimate agency’s name.

These fraudsters had managed to obtain keys to the property by booking it through online travel agency Booking.com. Lee shared, “I’m pretty sure there were two people who booked out a place when we had the viewings and posed as agents.”

Having inspected the property, Lee and his friend were provided with an official-looking contract and invoice. Lee recalled his meticulous vetting process, saying, “I read through the contract, I made sure to ask someone else too… Everything looked legitimate so I didn’t think much about it.”

To their horror, after transferring a hefty sum covering six months of rent and a five-week deposit, they received an alert from OpenRent about potential fraud. Their worst fears were realised when they approached the flat and were informed by other renters that they had been scammed.

Lee recounted the harrowing experience of another couple ready to move in, saying, “There was another couple that came in with boxes ready to move in.” He promptly reported the scam to OpenRent, his bank, and ultimately to Action Fraud, the fraud and cybercrime reporting centre for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Reflecting on his ordeal, Lee emphasised the desperation individuals face when seeking housing in London, stating, “I think you realise as well, when you try to rent a place in London, the moment a listing comes up, you have a two to three-day period until it gets taken by somebody else.”

OpenRent communicated its support for Lee, expressing their commitment to aid Action Fraud in catching the culprits. They reiterated their process of stringent verification for landlords listing properties on their platform. A representative from Booking.com emphasised the rarity of such incidents but acknowledged the importance of hosts and customers’ safety and security.