With July being Fraud Awareness Month, the subject of online rental fraud has been brought back into the spotlight. Scammers posing as landlords post fake adverts on classified ad sites and other free-to-list platforms, then attempt to convince potential tenants to transfer a holding deposit or up-front fee (often over a thousand pounds) to secure the property without ever having seen it in person.
New YouGov research from TheHouseShop.com shows that consumers are becoming more aware of the dangers and are now demanding better security checks on the platforms they use to search for property online.
Case study, Annie Stanford, explains her personal experience of online rental fraud where she narrowly avoided falling victim to a fake rental scam..
Facts & Figures:
Recent estimates from Shelter show that as many as 250,000 renters have fallen victim to rental fraud and scams in the past 5 years – with almost 50,000 victims in the past 12 months alone. It is estimated that bogus landlords are making a whopping £775 million through rental scams, with an average cost per victim of roughly £2,400, showing the scale of the damage caused by scammers.
As landlords’ profits are squeezed by Government-imposed tax relief cuts, Stamp Duty surcharges and a potential increase in letting agency costs as a result of the tenant fees ban – more and more private landlords are turning to DIY online platforms to find tenants for their properties. However, many of the classified ad sites commonly used by such landlords offer little-to-no security checks to verify the authenticity of adverts. Unfortunately, these sites have therefore become favourite targets for scammers looking to secure up-front payments from tenants for properties that they either do not own, or that never existed to begin with.
Users demanding better security from online property platforms
Online security and fraud prevention is becoming an increasingly important concern for safety-conscious home-hunters, especially for the thousands of tenants looking for private landlord properties that they will not find on the big “agent-only” portals.
Recent YouGov research commissioned by TheHouseShop.com found that the majority of Brits said they would be “more likely” to use a property website that runs a variety of checks to verify the identity of advertisers and confirm property ownership details. Interestingly, older age groups were the most cautious when it came to fraud prevention and online security, with 24% of 45-54 year olds and 29% of over 55’s saying they are “much more likely” to use a property site with additional security checks.
Forcing landlords to provide evidence that they are the legal owner of a property before allowing them to post an advert is one of the best ways to deter bogus landlords, but many in the industry admit that even with the most sophisticated security checks available, it is almost impossible to stop 100% of scam or fraud attempts.
In an attempt to attract the growing number of renters looking for a safe and secure platform to find and communicate with private landlords, TheHouseShop became the first business in Europe to offer a property ownership verification system for all private advertisers when they installed their Land Registry database check last year. The site is now reaping the benefits of its forward-thinking approach and is winning praise from both landlords and tenants for its attempts to stamp out fake landlords trying to run scams on the site.
Nick Marr, Co-founder of TheHouseShop.com, comments on the progress being made in the fight against online rental fraud:
“It’s been almost a year since we launched our mandatory Land Registry ownership verification check and we have now built up thousands of verified private rental listings on the site. We are finding that more and more of our traffic is coming from tenants using Google to track down private landlords, and being able to provide a safe and secure platform for renters to engage with landlords directly has been a huge achievement for us.”
“Our recent YouGov research has proved that home-hunters are becoming increasingly concerned about online safety and security, and these concerns are impacting which sites they choose to use. With the majority of Brits saying they would be either “more likely” or “much more likely” to use a site that verifies advertisers’ identities and confirms property ownership, it is clear that consumers are wising up to the dangers of online rental fraud and demanding tougher security checks on the platforms they use to search for property.”
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