"Tenants must double check the validity of the websites they are using by checking websites such as ARLA and then contact the agent on the details listed there if they have any doubts at all," warned Ian Potter, Operations Manager at ARLA. "Unfortunately, criminals who are operating from abroad can misappropriate company brands and industry logos to convince consumers that they are dealing with a legitimate lettings organisation."
ARLA members have noted a particular upsurge of fraud from companies posting on the website Gumtree and claiming to be letting properties in Sydney. In the past, this has also been seen in for properties in London and major UK cities for Student Lettings amongst others.
The illegal sites essentially hijack a UK agent’s website appearance and offer access to properties and rental opportunities. Consumers who have paid in deposits into the accounts of the representatives of these sites have been left out of pocket and without access to the property they have been promised.
"We have had numerous reports from our member agents at ARLA, who have noted an increase in the trend of website scraping in the past six months. We urge any concerned tenant to always use a licensed letting agent – they can call to confirm the identity of that agent through ARLA.
ARLA have produced these Top Tips to avoid being caught out:
• Get a friend, contact or relative to check the property exists and is available.
• Do not pay monies if you or a reliable contact has not visited the property with an agent or the landlord.
• Ask for copies of tenancy agreements and any safety certificates such as Gas Electricity or HMO Licence.
• Do not be pressurised into transferring large sums of money. Transfer funds to a Bank Account having obtained the details by contacting the landlord or agent direct after the above steps have been followed.
• Victims of any fraud must also inform the Trading Standards Board as well as the police, particularly in cases where money has been lost.
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