New Warning Issued Over Property Fraud Crisis, with Students at Heightened Risk as up to 25 People Chasing Each Property

THE National Association Of Property Buyers and one of Britain’s leading online classified advertising websites are joining forces in a bid to fight back against fraudsters.

Disturbing reports earlier this month revealed criminals are increasingly placing fake property listings online to trick people.

Now, in a joint statement, the NAPB and Gumtree are warning that students looking for accommodation ahead of the new academic year are at heightened risk. The NAPB says “a new crisis in supply in student housing” is being exacerbated by the soaring number of landlords quitting the sector.

And Gumtree, who have industry leading anti-fraud measures across their website, say they are witnessing an unprecedented level of demand right across the UK. Analysis by Gumtree of the 15 UK cities with the highest demand revealed that Edinburgh is seeing the biggest problem with supply.

According to Gumtree there are an average of 25 replies to every property to rent listed in the city.

This was followed by Birmingham (19), London (18), Leeds (17) and Liverpool (16). Edinburgh also saw the highest average number of replies to listings for properties to share (25), followed by Glasgow (15), Leeds (8), Brighton (7) and Newcastle (6).

Overall, Gumtree say demand for properties to rent in the UK increased 117% in the first half of 2023 vs 2022 and properties to share saw a 34% increase over the same period.

The figures come a week after a new report revealed fraudsters were routinely placing fake listings adverts online in a bid to cash in on the supply crisis. Figures from Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre, show there were 5,751 reports of rental scams last year, a 23 per cent rise on 2021.

Total losses were £9.4 million, about £1,600 per victim and there were 541 cases last month alone.

Issuing a warning for people to be on their guard, Joseph Rindsland, Gumtree’s Head of Trust and Safety, said: “Given demand for rental properties and houses to share is up significantly in 2023, finding a new student home this academic year could be more difficult.

“As a result, fraudsters may try to take advantage of this situation so it is crucial to be savvy when house hunting. Be suspicious of any advert that sounds too good to be true, always visit the property in person, never pay an upfront fee and be wary if you aren’t asked to take part in any tenant screening.

He added: “Gumtree helps thousands of people find a place to live every year and we have a zero-tolerance approach to fraud on our platform.”

Those comments were echoed by Jonathan Rolande, from the NAPB, who said: “Demand across the country has surged and as more landlords quit the sector creating even more scarcity in available property to rent. The rising popularity of short-term rentals has also seen many properties suitable for students disappear from the market.

“A post-Covid surge in students living close to their place of learning has further exacerbated the issue.

“Desperation to find a home under these conditions makes it easier for fraudsters to take advantage with fake listings, multiple lets of the same property and off-site fraud where personal details are sought to exploit elsewhere.

He added: “It is perfectly safe to rent a property from a recognised seller site such as Gumtree, who take steps to eliminate fraud, but prospective tenants should also carry out their own checks – helpful advice is on Gumtree’s site. For students who have not rented before, we recommend seeking the assistance of a trusted friend or family member who has more experience with rentals. Sometimes the best way to avoid fraud is to listen to gut-feeling.

If in doubt, avoid!”

How to avoid fraud:

To protect yourself the NAPB advise:

*Check for genuine landlords: It’s important to verify the legitimacy of the landlord. Using services like Land Registry or Companies House can help you confirm the details of a landlord and ensure you’re dealing with a genuine individual.

*Beware of unrealistic prices: Scammers often lure victims with unrealistically low rental prices. If a deal seems too good to be true, it’s wise to be cautious and investigate further.

*Avoid pressure tactics: Scammers might use high-pressure tactics to rush you into making decisions without thinking. Take your time to verify the property and the landlord’s legitimacy before committing.

*Reverse image search: Running a reverse image search on property photos can help you determine if the images are stolen from other legitimate listings. This can be a useful way to identify potential scams.

*Keep conversations on platform: Keeping your communication on the platform where you found the listing can provide an extra layer of security. Scammers might try to move you to other platforms like Whatsapp where they can exploit you more easily.

*Avoid clicking suspicious links: Clicking on links provided by potential scammers can lead to phishing attempts or malware infections. Always verify the legitimacy of links before clicking on them.

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