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A housing scam preying on people desperate for affordable private rented sector housing has been exposed by staff at BHT’s Advice Centres in Eastbourne, Hastings and Brighton, and colleagues at Citizens Advice in Eastbourne.
The criminals behind the scheme offer accommodation for rent and request a deposit up front, often amounting to many hundreds of Pounds, before the individual has seen the property.
The property doesn’t exist and the criminals and the deposits are not seen again.
Veronica Tomlin from BHT’s Eastbourne Advice Centre, explained how the scam works:
Mainly in papers like the Friday-Ad and Gumtree, ads showing one bed flats for a low amount of around the £450 mark normally, although they are starting to up the price on ones in Brighton, all furnished looking like show homes. They don’t show the outside of course, as it isn’t real, and some don’t show pictures at all.
A lot of the email addresses are hard to track. In the beginning it was possible to track the IP address and we could see they were coming from America but any Hotmail addresses which are widely used do not show these so cannot be tracked. We have picked up scams in Eastbourne, Hastings, Brighton and as far as Bristol in their Friday-Ad equivalent called Trade-it.
Veronica and her colleagues emailed and received the same wording of two different types, which makes them easy to pick up as frauds. They have also had back the same names on some of them. Veronica said:
Once we receive the email, we report them and get the ad removed. Some of the obvious ones we get removed straight away without emailing them as they are quite easy to spot.
Our clients are quite vulnerable and we don’t want them to fall into the trap of giving a deposit to these people, only to never see their money again, so it is important for us to get to them first.
If you have been scammed:
- report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 to help stop it happening to others.
- often you can’t always get your money back if you’ve been scammed, especially if you’ve handed over cash
- if you’ve paid for goods or services by credit card you have more protection, and if you used a debit card you may be able to ask your bank for a chargeback
- get advice and report it to Trading Standards through the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 (for advice in Welsh phone 03454 04 05 05) or online advice at www.adviceguide.org.uk
CAB advised many people about a range of different scams and this one about rented properties has recently stood out. Our work in this area has two aspects: raising awareness to warn people about scams and how to stop them, and helping people who have been affected. Often there is little we can do to advise on how money can be retrieved so raising awareness is key.
We have a saying which applies to all scams “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. In the case of these rental properties they are advertised at well below the market price and it is cashing in on how difficult it can be to find affordable housing in places like Eastbourne or Brighton.
To avoid getting caught out, don’t hand over any money until you have met with the landlords and have seen the property, do what you can to verify their details, name, address etc., and if you’re handing over money get receipts and think about what you would be able to do if things go wrong.
Deposits by their very nature are usually not refundable so don’t be rushed into parting with cash until you feel confident.
Alan Bruzon, Eastbourne Citizen’s Advice Bureau
Sometimes people question the value of advice services, but they not only resolve individual crises, prevent homelessness and help people into accommodation.
They can prevent people being ripped off, and they prevent the humiliation and hardship that scams like this cause.
Andy Winter, BHT Chief Executive