Charlie Temple had almost given up his search for a short-term rental property 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 earlier in a last-ditch attempt to find his new home.
Charlie, whose name we changed at his request, had just four weeks to find somewhere before his current contract ended.
I needed a three-month rental to get by while I bought a house. Finding a short-term rental for him and his border terrier was proving difficult, so he was delighted when the message appeared on his phone.
But what he didn’t know was that responding to the message would lead to him and his dog becoming homeless and losing £3,500 out of pocket.
Fake rentals: More than 5,400 hopeful tenants have been scammed out of deposits for non-existent rental properties over the past year, according to Action Fraud (pictured by models)
Charlie was being conned into one of Britain’s fastest growing scams – the rental scam. According to Action Fraud, more than 5,400 hopeful tenants have been scammed out of deposits for non-existent rental properties over the past year.
However, this is likely the tip of the iceberg, as most scams go unreported.
The message Charlie clicked on appeared to be from an older woman who, in her profile photo, was posing with her granddaughter.
‘Hello. I have something for you. It is a lovely, fully equipped, well furnished and spacious one bedroom apartment and the nearest station is Stepney Green. Rent is £1,900 and includes bills. Deposit is £1,600.
He responded that he was interested and asked to see photographs. They showed a typical London flat: eggshell-colored walls, furniture that didn’t match the previous tenants’, but clean and spacious.
“The flat ticked a lot of boxes,” says Charlie. ‘The landlady even accepted dogs, which is hard to find. The photographs looked great and it was within my budget, so I told him I’d love to see them.’
He was apparently told that the current tenants were holding showings and that Charlie should speak to them directly to arrange one.
“I texted the tenant and she said her mom was in the hospital, so she was gone for a while, but her husband could take a quick video of the apartment before joining her to take care of her mom.”
Charlie conducted his own background checks before proceeding. She Googled the landlady and reviewed all of her old Facebook posts to make sure she was genuine.
He asked both the landlady and the tenant for the address; His answers coincided, which gave him peace of mind that the offer was legitimate.
The 31-year-old man, who had to travel for work a few days later, took his dog for a walk to explore the area.
Satisfied with the photographs, the video and the area, he agreed to rent the apartment for three months, from June to the end of August. They sent him a contract, which he signed and paid the £1,600 deposit.
But a week later, while he was away, he received a message telling him there was a problem with the deposit system and that further verification was required.
To get 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 apartment before paying more money but I was out of the country for a few weeks. She was quite insistent and said she would have to find another tenant if I couldn’t prove that she wanted it.
Charlie spoke to the lady on the phone and, after the call, received a copy of her passport as proof of her identity.
‘Before sending the money, I harassed her: I searched for her name and all the email addresses on the contract. I looked up her address in west London and everything went well.
‘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 she landed, she would meet me at the property with the property manager.’
Scammers’ paradise: Scammers have flooded social media giant Facebook with dubious ads and fake property listings to exploit the red-hot rental market.
Charlie went straight from the airport to the apartment and rang the doorbell but there was no answer. After half an hour of waiting, a young woman approached the door with a set of keys.
‘I asked her if she was the current tenant. She was, but she said she had no plans to move anytime soon. I asked if maybe there was an apartment upstairs.
“It wasn’t until he told me it was a three-bedroom house that I realized I had been scammed. I felt like a complete muppet and was upset that I had fallen for it.”
Scammers have flooded social media with dodgy ads and fake property listings to exploit the red-hot rental market. Renters have faced enormous competition for housing; Rightmove reported that there were 20 views for each rental property advert over the summer.
Charlie says: “It was almost impossible to find a flat.” He had just a week to find a new apartment and resorted to renting a house on the website Airbnb, which tends to be more expensive than typical short-term rentals.
The sales manager reported the fraud to his bank, Starling, and received a full refund within eight weeks. They told him that the woman he thought he was talking to had probably been hacked and had her identity stolen.
Facebook’s online commerce platform Marketplace has become a hotbed for rental scams.
The website has gained popularity as an increasing number of people have begun listing their homes on the website as an easier way to connect with potential renters. Today, the second largest category on the commerce site is rental property listings.
A Starling Bank spokesperson says: ‘We do everything we can to protect our customers from fraud.
where to finish [which owns Facebook] is facilitating and enabling fraud, they should be held responsible and bear the cost of refunding the customer.’
Money Mail’s Stop The Social Media Scammers campaign is calling on tech giants, including Facebook, to take action now to better protect users.
A Meta spokesperson says: ‘Facebook Marketplace is primarily a local listings service that involves cash payments. Our platforms have systems to block scams. Financial services advertisers must now be authorized by the FCA and we run consumer awareness campaigns.’
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