An extraordinary property scam is apparently gaining ground, whereby prospective tenants are being asked for “viewing deposits” by people who do not own the property in question.
Claer Barrett has written in the Financial Times of the experience of her 22-year old stepson, who was moving to Exeter and placed an advert on flatshare website SpareRoom.
He received a response from ‘Julie’, offering a fantastic looking property in a good location at a reasonable rent.
He arranged a viewing, only to be told by ‘Julie’ that a viewing deposit of £400 had to be paid first.
She said in an email: “So many other renters have let me down by not showing up, so I hope you understand,” explaining the money would be deducted from his first month’s rent.
As a reassurance, she emailed an image of a passport in her name — which, of course, proved nothing, as “Julie” was not present for him to verify that the picture was her.
Barrett said: “My stepson was suspicious but like many young people he was in a hurry to secure somewhere to live. Thanks to his former student landlord in Bristol, he was skint, as his deposit had yet to be returned. If that money had been in his account, maybe he would have been tempted.”
Barrett discovered through the Land Registry the real name of the owner and wrote to him: he responded a few days later to say he had no room for rent.
Matt Robinson, director of SpareRoom, told Barrett that it has a full-time moderation team working to keep people safe.