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How can I tell if a property advert is a scam?  

Property advert scams become more common when rents are rising or demand is high, such as late summer. They are easy to encounter, particularly on social media and informal listings sites, so it’s important that if you think you see a scam you report it as soon as possible.  

There are a number of signs that a property advert may be a scam: 

  • Be particularly vigilant if the advertisement for the property is not from an established estate or lettings agent or clearly links to a listing of one. You are on safer ground where a letting agent is involved as they must all be members of the Property Ombudsman or Property Redress Scheme, which can be verified relatively easily.   
  • If, when you contact the person listing the property, they are evasive as to when you will be able to view the property then be very cautious. The majority of landlords and letting agents will have fixed times when you can view the property and as such will not be evasive about when you can access the property.  
  • Fraudsters will often lure people in by advertising a home at a considerably lower rent than other listings nearby. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If the person listing the property asks for you to pay money upfront without seeing the property, this is another sign that the listing is a scam. Upfront fees before viewing a property are illegal under the Tenant Fees Act.
  • Before viewing a property check it is a rental property – some scammers have been listing properties that are for rent but not owned by them or properties that aren’t for rent at all as if they were. You can check to see if the property is for rent by checking the Land Registry to see who owns it (this costs £3), Rent Profile, or if it is indeed listed as for rent elsewhere by a legitimate source. If the letting agent is  In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland it is possible to check if a property is registered as a rental on the national landlord register.
  • If you would like to rent the property that you have viewed, the landlord or agent may ask for a refundable holding deposit worth a maximum of one week’s rent. Do not agree to hand over any money until you have seen a copy of your tenancy agreement, a copy of the gas certificate or if you are renting with other people a copy of the HMO license. For more information on holding deposits check out our page on them here.
  • If you have not already, before making any payments, make sure you are dealing with a genuine letting agent by calling the office phone number listed on their website to verify that the listing and the bank details they give you are legitimate. We have heard of fraudsters pretending to be actual registered letting agents in order to win house hunters’ confidence.
  • Landlords and agents should not ask you for large sums of money, such a deposit and rent, over and above a holding deposit, until they are ready to sign a tenancy agreement. If a purported landlord seems to be pressurising you to pay more than one week’s rent then walk away.  
  • Be very wary about paying in cash. This sometimes happens in shared homes where rooms are let informally, and can be fine if you get the keys at the same time, but it is often not clear what your rights are. If you feel nervous it is often safer to walk away.
  • If there is an option of paying by credit card this can give you more protection. Avoid anonymous money transfer services – you can check if a bank account is one by using an online sort-code checker.

It is also important to be aware that whilst many letting agents list their properties on social media platforms they will always do this via accounts that clearly set out that they are letting agents and with links to their official websites. There will be no ambiguity about what the letting agent is listing or where, so be extra cautious before applying for a property listed on social media.  

If you are concerned about a potential listening then you can report it to the social media website that it has been listed on. If you have been the victim of fraud then contact your bank as soon as possible. You can report it to Action Fraud here and the Property Ombudsman here, particularly if the listing was from a fake or bogus lettings agent.  

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