In Depth

Rental scams a growing part of £10bn annual fraud cost

Local Government Association reckons that only five per cent of scams are ever reported

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Con artists are getting away with billions of pounds every year, including through a growing number of rental scams.

Only five per cent of fraud cases are reported, according to the Local Government Association (LGA), meaning the vast majority go unpunished.

To mark National Scams Awareness Month, the LGA has revealed that the annual cost of fraud to UK citizens is an astronomical £9.7bn.

Over five million people reported being scammed last year but experts believe that is only five per cent of the true figure as people are either too embarrassed to report a con, or they simply never realised they’ve been scammed.

Local councils are calling for people to come forward and report scams so they can take action.

“Victims of fraud can lose thousands of pounds and feel anxious and scared due to being harassed by people every day,” says Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board.

“Trading Standards teams see at first-hand the devastation but victims shouldn’t suffer in silence or feel embarrassed. By reporting a scam, people can help someone else avoid being a victim.”

Rental fraud a growing problem

The booming property market means criminals are increasingly targeting people with rental scams.

Rogue landlord Martin Marcus was jailed for four and half years recently after admitting fraud. His victims described how he took hundreds of pounds as deposits from them to secure two rooms in a three-bedroom flat, only to discover that seven other people were already living at the property.

“I was devastated. I could not sleep and feel sick,” Hannah Casey, a teacher, told the BBC.  “He was preying on people who he thought were vulnerable, like us – two young women. But we work too hard for someone to take money like that and steal it.”

Marcus scammed a total of £220,000 out of people in rent and deposits. He would take deposits and rent for properties he had no right to rent out. At one stage he tried to let out the house that he was being evicted from – for not paying his rent.

Figures from Action Fraud show that rental fraud is on the rise. In 2014 2,216 cases were reported but that increased to 3,193 last year.

The Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA) wants to tackle the problem by making it a legal requirement that lettings agents have professional qualifications.

“Solicitors, accountants and doctors must all have qualifications so why not letting agents? It is not acceptable in the modern world,” says David Cox, the ARLA’s managing director.

How to protect yourself from rental fraud
  • Do not send money to anyone advertising rental properties online until you know they are genuine and you have seen the property.
  1. Make sure you, or someone you trust, physically visits the property and gets to see inside before you sign anything or hand over money.
  2. Ask for a copy of your tenancy agreement and any safety certificates. 

If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam report it to Action Fraud.

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