Safe as houses

The internet is full of scams and spam but SpareRoom isn’t. Here’s what we do to keep you protected while you rent your rooms. (Originally published in Multi-letters issue 9, Jan-Feb 2013)

The Internet has been the saviour of flatsharing in may ways. Not only does it allow people to search for rooms quickly and easily, without needing to be in the area they’re moving to, it also makes it easier for landlords offering rooms to target people searching in their area. However, there has always been a darker side to the Internet and property sites attract just as many scams and fraudsters as other websites. Some sites don’t have the resources (or, frankly, the desire) to combat fraudulent activity, as keeping things secure all adds to running costs (quite significantly if it’s done properly). at SpareRoom security is a core element of what we do – if our users are happy they’ll come back and recommend us. That’s the bottom line.

So how do we keep scams at bay and keep our users safe and happy?

Spareroom has staff dedicated to the task of keeping scams and spam off the site and commits a substantial chunk of our resources to preventing fraud. All our customer services staff are trained in spotting scams. The operation is headed up by Jim Craft. Jim is Spareroom’s security expert. Along with a dedicated team of ad checkers Jim monitors the site constantly to make sure no scam listings creep in and, in the very rare instance where one does, that it’s dealt with quickly and effectively.

People + technology = security

Spareroom has a sophisticated system of automated filters in place that check every single ad, photo and video that comes in, which is no mean feat when you consider that Spareroom has over 68,000 live ads as I write this. We then manually go through these listings for any signs of scams or fraudulent activity. With 8 years under our belts running Spareroom (and 13 with our sister site intoLondon.com) we’re getting good at spotting the signs.

A wider security team of 3 million

We also let users help us as, after all, they’ll spend far longer between them on the site than we can – there are over 3 million of them and not quite so many of us! every listing has a ‘report this ad’ link so users can let us know if they spot anything suspect. even if it turns out to be fine it’s always worth us having a look.

Keeping your email safe

We also don’t publish anyone’s email address directly on the site. This achieves two main things. Firstly, it stops automated programs from scanning the site for email addresses they can ‘harvest’ and add to spam mailing lists and, secondly, we can monitor any communications made by fraudulent advertisers once we’ve spotted their ad. This means we can alert anyone to be on the look- out if we think someone has been trying to con them.

What you can do to protect yourself

There are, of course, things you can be on the look out for to make sure you don’t fall victim to a scam. Here are our top 3 tips specifically for landlords renting out property.
1) If it looks too good to be true it probably is
If someone says they’ll take your room and pay up front without having seen it then warning bells should be sounding. There are genuine reasons why some tenants can’t view a room first but you should be extra cautious if this is the case.
2) Read all emails and messages carefully
People write messages in a hurry so it’s not unusual to see spelling mistakes in them, but you should keep an eye out for inconsistencies and errors in emails. The obvious thing is the sender including details that don’t seem quite right. Scammers send out 1,000s of emails a day so they’re probably using a template to start with.
Be on the lookout specifically for language mentioning ‘final asking price’ or someone wanting to ‘buy your item’.
3) Trust your instincts
Your instincts have been honed over a lifetime of experience so, if you have a nagging doubt about something, chances are you’re probably right. If you’re an experienced landlord you’ll probably have reliable gut feelings about people – trust them.

Jim says, “Don’t forget, by using a reputable site such as Spareroom you’re already drastically decreasing your chances of running into scams or spam. If you’re in any doubt at any point then get in touch via the ‘report this ad’ link or via the number on the site and we’ll look into it for you”.

It’s also important to remember that the scammers we keep off Spareroom will surface elsewhere and not all other websites are as scrupulous as we are in weeding them out.

Snakes and Hakas (or How to Scam a Scammer)

We recently heard from someone who’d spotted an ad on SpareRoom, replied and was concerned that there was something fishy going on. We stop over 99% of scam ads before they even get onto the site but the odd one contains absolutely no clues until the advertiser starts emailing people. We’d already spotted this and were investigating it so the user said he’d carry on communicating with the scam landlord to see whether he could get any more info out of him so we could track him down.

The exchange of emails below is worth reading for 2 reasons:

  1. It’s a good lesson in how scammers communicate so it’s worth arming yourself with the knowledge (things like not being able to view the flat without paying, insistence on Western Union payment etc)
  2. It’s damn funny. Our tenant (let’s call him J.) has a wicked sense of humour!

After an initial enquiry about the ad our tenant had the following response.

‘Landlord’

Hello,

I realy appreciate you have interest in my flat, the flat located at the city center of clapham (1 XXX Road,Clapham Junction,London Battersea SW11 London) is  very close to amenities like,restaurant, medical center and university……the flat is fully equipped with modern facilities. wireless internet service, dishwasher, microwave, washing machine and air conditioner.
The flat comprises living room,bedroom,kitchen, dinning room,bathroom and toilet…the rent is 500pounds monthly including all bills and the refundable security deposit is 500pounds.
I have been here in the Stoke for past 3weeks with my family due to transfer at place of work and we will be here for 20 months. So, i am renting my apartment for maximum of 18 months and minimum of 1 month.

As regards viewing, I’ll suggest you visit the apartment and view the exterior for the time being. I already gave you the address, I have been disturbed a lot by prospective tenants such that I came all the way from Stoke and waste my time, some doesn’t have the cash for the rent but I wouldn’t like to go through such stress anymore. Please, kindly get back to me and let me know your decisions after viewing but I’m very sure, you will never regret this apartment and if you plan to make reservation of the flat let me know.

Tenant

I looked at the exterior on Google Maps streetview, and it looks fine to me.  From the photos, it looks extremely nice inside, and I’d really like to view it in person, when convenient for you.

I’m a professional working in the City.  The rent isn’t a problem.  I need to give my current landlord one month’s notice to move out.  So ideally, I’d like to move in one month after viewing the flat.  But if that’s a problem and you need someone in sooner than one month, I can sort something out.  I’d like to rent it for the maximum 18 months.

I’m available at any time.  When is convenient for you to show me the flat?

‘Landlord’

Hi,
I really appreciate your interest in my apartment, I will be willing to rent out my apartment to you.In renting the apartment we will both sign a rental agreement contract form then i will post the keys of the apartment plus other necessary documents to you or i should come back to london and hand over the keys to you in person after your first month rent  and the deposit payment 1000pounds has been confirmed. Do get back to me with the below information so that we can proceed further:

Your full name:
Your full address:
Nationality:
Move in date and out:

With those information,i shall prepare the rental agreement which will be signed by you and me. When you have the contract, you will have to print it out, sign it and scan it back to me along side with the payment receipt (to be transferred into my bank account).   The address you provide in the mail is where keys and other necessary documents will be posted.

Tenant

Hi again,

Before signing anything, or paying any money, I need to view the flat myself in person.  Also, in your first email, you said the deposit is £500, not £1,000?

Let me know when is convenient for you, or your agent, to show me the flat.  Then we can take it from there.

‘Landlord’

Hello,
The 1000 pounds is for a month rent and deposit. there’s no body to show you the flat i have all the keys with me…I have been disturb alot by prospective tenant that telling me to come for viewing all the way from Stoke to london and when i eventually come back for viewing they didn’t have the cash for the rent some didn’t show up again telling me that they finally got another flat many stories like that. that’s why i am giving you the address of the flat to make exterior viewing. I have to see the proof of a month rent and deposit before coming back for viewing.

Tenant

Hello

I am not going to pay or sign anything until I have viewed the interior of the flat, and have the keys.  After I have viewed the flat, I will sign a tenancy agreement.  After I have the keys, I will pay the deposit + first month’s rent.  Not before.

I’m sorry, but this all sounds very suspicious.  If the photos are of the flat, and there aren’t any problems with it, then I can assure you, I’ll take the flat.  But I’m absolutely not going to send you £1,000 in good faith that you’ll send me the keys and tenancy agreement.  Would you?

…..

Hello again

I’ve had second thoughts.  I’m really desperate for a flat, and really want this one.  How do I send the money to you?

‘Landlord’

Hi,
Attached to this email is the lease contract form try to print it out, read the terms and conditions, if you are okay with it, sign it and scan the last page of the form to me where you sign so that i can sign my own part to proof that you have pay for the rent and the flat has been reserved for you.

After that you will proceed to bank and make deposit of 1000pounds which is for a month rent and deposit into my bank account.

Once you have done with the deposit, get back to me with the scan copy of the deposit reciept to proof that you have make the deposit into my account and as soon as i recieved the confirmation of the money i will get back to you and we can now arranged how to meet in london later today or tomorrow and hand over the keys and the reciept to you in person.

Here’s my details to make the transfer.

BANK NAME: XXXXXXX XXXX

BENEFICIARY NAME: XXXXXX XXXXXX

ACCOUNT NUMBER: XXXXXXXX

SORT CODE: XXXXXX

Tenant

Hi

Thank you for the tenancy agreement and your bank details.

I have a couple of questions about the agreement.  It says, PETS: Tenant shall not keep any Pets on the Premises without the prior written consent of the Landlord.

I own a Naja Naja (Indian Cobra), called Pete.  I hope you’re OK with me keeping him in the flat?

‘Landlord’

Ok no problem.

Tenant

Thank you so much.  Snakes get such a bad press, especially six-foot cobras, and I often have problems when moving into somewhere new. I appreciate your understanding.

The agreement also says, ALTERATIONS AND IMPROVEMENTS: Tenant agrees not to make any improvements or alterations to the Premises without prior written consent of the Landlord.
Looking at the photos you sent me, I think the colour scheme you’ve gone for might anger Pete.  Did you hire a colour consultant?  Also, if he did escape from his wicker basket, he would be well camouflaged against the bedroom walls.  Not a good thing.

Please may I re-decorate?  I would like to paint the walls Raspberry Diva in matt.  Would that be OK?

‘Landlord’

If you’re ready for the flat go ahead and make deposit into my account and get back to me. No time to waste.

Tenant

Please be assured, I am absolutely ready, and able, to make the deposit. I just need to confirm a couple of things with the contract first. Obviously this is all subject to contract: we need to agree the terms first.

Can I re-decorate the flat?  Please let me know.

I’ve agreed with my current landlord that I can move out immediately, so I’m just waiting on you to agree the tenancy agreement terms.

‘Landlord’

Yes no problem

Tenant

Awesome.  You’re a great landlord, dude.  Has anyone ever told you that? 🙂 I can’t wait to move in.

Before I make the deposit, I have just one more question that I can think of: Tenant agrees that no signs shall be placed on the Premises without the prior written consent of Landlord.

I’ve always loved that sign, “Trespassers will be shot.  Survivors will be shot again.”  Could I please put that on the front door?

Thanks so much

‘Landlord’

Yes as long as you’re still in the flat

Tenant

Wicked.  I love you, man.

OK, one other thing: Tenant shall not use or have any liquid-filled furniture, including but not limited to waterbeds, on the premises without Landlord’s prior written consent.

I have a confession to make.  I’m still stuck in the seventies (wasn’t that a groovy decade?!), and, well, I have a waterbed.  You wouldn’t have any objections to me sleeping on a waterbed, would you?  It does wonders for my back pain, and, to be honest, it would be a deal breaker if I couldn’t have my waterbed in the flat…

Can I please have a waterbed in the flat?

Thanks again

ps I have pre-authorised a transfer of £1,000 with my bank.  I just need to give them the final confirmation to send it to you.

‘Landlord’

Alright no problem.

Tenant

By the way, in relation to this clause: “At the expiration of the Lease, Tenant shall peaceably surrender the Premises to Landlord”

If I perform the Haka (my traditional ancestral war dance) when I move out at the end of my tenancy, will that count as “peaceably” surrendering, or will I be in breach of the tenancy agreement?

I’m very sorry for all of these questions, but the agreement does say: “The Tenant signing this Rental Contract hereby state that all questions about this Rental Agreement have been answered.”  And I don’t want to breach the agreement – I obviously want the deposit that I’m about to send you back when I move out.

‘Landlord’

Yes is better to ask this before moving in. No problem about that and your 500pounds will surely refund back to you after the contract end.

Tenant

Cool, thanks man, ‘preciate it.  Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora! 😉

I just spoke with my bank and the transfer should be going through sometime today.  I’ll let you know when it’s gone through! 😀

My address for the tenancy agreement is xxxxxxxx.  Could you please insert this into the agreement and re-send it to me to sign?

Thanks much!

ps I want to move in next Saturday, 15 October, for 18 months, please.  So I would move out on 15 April 2013.  Hope that’s OK with you?

‘Landlord’

Good morning,

I’m not with my laptop today because I’m kinder busy, fill the last page of the contract form with the move in date and out  and sign it.

Then send it back to me with the proof of the transfer, for how long the money will be credited into my account today?

Tenant

Morning,

OK, here’s the last page with my details and signature.  Are you able to counter-sign it, and email it back, before I give my bank the final go ahead to make the transfer?

Sorry, i just realised I should have put 15 April, 2013 (not 2011) on the move out date – please can you amend it by hand when you sign?

Thanks

‘Landlord’

No problem, will do that.

Tenant

Thanks

‘Landlord’

That’s not a problem, if I sign it now and send it back you and you didn’t make the deposit there’s nothing I can proof to you that you haven’t paid me since I have sign it and you know that once I sign the form that means you have paid for the rent. Your money must be confirmed in my account before I sign it and send it back to you to bring along on the day we arranged for meeting.

Tenant

OK, no problem, I understand – I’ll give my bank the go ahead.

I’ll get back to you in a bit.

Hello

I’m out of the office.  My bank says the account name doesn’t match the number.  Please can you check and tell me again, do I need any other information…? please help.  Really want this flat before someone else makes a deposit…

What to do?  Bank closes in 45 minutes.  Waiting for your reply.

‘Landlord’

I don’t just understand why you dont get through with the transfer, all the information is correct, you can make the transfer via electronic banking which is online banking or go ahead to westernunion or moneygram outlet and make the transfer to my name as the reciever that’s more easier for you to make the transfer and the transfer is very easy, when you get there you don’t need any asistance to make the transfer just collect the transfer form and fill it, your name will be as the sender’s name and my name will be as the reciever’s name, give the agent 1000pound and he will give you the westernunion receipt to pick up the money here with the westernunion details and make sure you make the transfer in a minute transfer ok?

Here’s my details to make the transfer.

(I was very tempted to leave these in but they’re probably fake – Matt)

xxxxxx xxxxxx
xx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx,
xxxxxxx XXXX XXX
U.K

Once you have done get back to me with the scan copy of the reciept to pick up the money here and i hope you get this done now.

Tenant

Thanks, dude.  I’ll give these details to my bank.  Do you have a reference number for the transfer?  Please check you haven’t already received the money anyway.  There is more than enough funds in my account!!!!!

By the way, I noticed this in the agreement:  Signature by the Tenant on this Rental Agreement is acknowledgment and he/she has received a signed copy of the Rental Agreement.

I don’t want to be difficult, but could you please now send me the countersigned agreement?

‘Landlord’

Hi,
I told you, once I received the transfer details to proof that you have paid for the rent I will sign it and send it back to you to bring along when we are going to meet in person.
Your rent must be confirmed before I sign the contract form. You don’t have any problem with that.
Again go ahead to western union outlet and make the transfer now that will be more easy for you than the problem you’re facing to transfer the money via bank transfer ok?

Western union is very easy to transfer money you don’t need any bank account to do that just do it the way I explain to you to make the transfer now ok?

Tenant

Yes, yes, fine.  I understand about the agreement!

I don’t use Western Union.  Period.  If you don’t want a normal bank transfer, then fine.  I can find another apartment…

As I said, I expect to hear back from my bank tomorrow now… what’s your reference number if they ask for one?

‘Landlord’

What’s your bank name? I gave you all the information to make the transfer. I don’t know why this is difficult with your bank this is not my first time to received money through my account.
I don’t false you to rent the flat. Since you’re having problem with bank transfer that’s why I choose to received the money via western union.

Regards.

Hi,
Let me know what you think? Are you going to make the western union transfer now or not? I have other prospective tenant that also email me about the flat is because of you I ignore there emails.
Please let me know.

Tenant

Is the flat still available?  I don’t have time to go to a western union outlet.  What other account name or address do you have that can I give my bank to make the transfer work?  They can’t do it with the one you gave me.

‘Landlord’

I’m only waiting for your reply before I response to others that also interested.

That’s my account to make the transfer and I don’t know the reason why is difficult for your bank to make the transfer and I told you  to do it as online transfer  that will go through and since you’re having problem with all this.

Western union is all around the corner in london, visit any location around you in your lunch time and make the transfer or you do the western union transfer online. All this is very easy.
If you really need the flat you will get this done now.
I’m only waiting for the confirmation of your money before I sign the contract form and send it back to you.

…..

I’m also ready to refund the western union charges back to you or you can also deduct it from the money you’re to send, that’s not a problem for me.

Hello,
Your response is very needed now.

Tenant

Hello again

Look, the truth is, I had a very bad experience with Western Union one time.  When I was buying my water bed (thanks again for letting me keep that), I used Western Union.  I ordered it, paid with Western Union, it arrived on time.  When I opened the package, the colour was Iced Frappe, NOT Raspberry Diva!!!  My colour consultant specifically told me Raspberry Diva goes with my eye colour.

I totally blame Western Union.

Now you understand.  If there was an Eastern Union, or even Northern Union, I would use that.  Is there?  I just prefer north to south, east to west, you know?  I have family from Hull.

There is a very slim (and, I mean, very slim) chance, that I might (just might) be persuaded to send you money via Western Union.  Send me £50 to my PayPal account (this email address) to cover the Western Union transaction fees.  That would prove to me, beyond any doubt, that you trust Western Union.  I would then send you the £1,000 for the flat.

Let me know when you’ve sent me the £50.  This whole flat-finding business is doing my nerves in.  Please, give me back my faith in humanity.

I hate to cut this short, but I need to feed Pete.  He hasn’t eaten for a few days.  No, I can assure you wherever I’ve ever lived, there has never been a rat problem.

‘Landlord’

I told you to deduct the transfer charges from the 1000pounds. You can also make the transfer via money gram and why can’t you make the bank transfer as online transfer?

Tenant

Money gram?   What?  How many grams of money do you want?  I don’t know how much £1,000 weighs, man.  I can’t make the bank transfer as online transfer because it’s bank transfer, not online transfer.  Bank transfer is different to online transfer, right?

Anyhoo, I see what you mean now – deduct the transfer charges from the £1,000.  Right, I get it.  I looked at the Western Union website to work out how much to deduct.  Actually, the charges are £28.40, not £50.  I worked it out by saying I would send £1,000 to find out the charges for that which are £28.40.  Then, I deducted 28.40 from 1,000.  1,000 – 28.40 = 971.60.  Next, I found out how much the charges would be to send you £971.60.  It said they would be £28.40.  971.60 + 28.40 = 1,000.  So I will send you £971.60, which means I pay Western Union £1,000.  OK?

But first.  I’ve been keeping my Guru  (as well as Pete) in the loop about our negotiations.  You may of heard of her – Guru K (see attached photo).  She’s my rock.  I’ve been having long and frank teachings from Guru about my trust issues.  Apparently, I have some bad kaurma blockages from my past life as a rat.  I find it difficult to trust people I’ve never met.

Guru’s teaching is I need a photo of you holding a document that proves you are the legal owner of the flat (maybe a utility bill or something like that with the address on it).  Email me one.  Then I will perform a trust ritual with Guru to clear my chakra blockage.  In return, I’m willing not to receive the signed agreement from you.  Then I will send you £971.60.

Light & Blessings

‘Landlord’

Listen to me, I don’t have time for all this to keep emailing you and you didn’t do the right thing at the right time, I don’t have to be holding a Utility bills and taking a photo of it,  money gram work the way western union works. I gave you bank account to make the transfer you didn’t get it done,I told you to make the transfer via western union or money gram you’re still delaying everything…I don’t really have time for all this. Are you sending the money now or not?

Regards

Tenant

I can sense your frustration.  I’m frustrated too.  Please, let’s help each other get through this.  I know I have trust issues.  And maybe you do too?  It’s OK; I know it’s hard to admit.  Help me to trust you.  I’ve been meditating on this with Pete, my snake, and I feel ready to trust again.  This is an important part of learning to trust.  Do you want a photo of me too?

Ask yourself this, how much would you pay NOT to send me a photo of you holding proof of ownership?  In reality, by not sending me the photo, you’re choosing to pay £971.60 to do that.  Would you really pay £971.60?  Even if you would pay up to £971.59, you would still make a profit out of it.  If you would pay £100 so that you didn’t have the hassle of emailing a photo (I think that’s overpriced, myself), then you’re making a profit of £871.60.  Let’s say you would pay £1,000 not to send me a photo, then you definitely should not send me a photo, it wouldn’t be worth it, if you’re only losing out on £971.60.

Do you need me to send you instructions?  What kind of phone do you have?

‘Landlord’

I can see that you’re just wasting my time.

Tenant

???

‘Landlord’

Without the proof of the transfer, I’m not going to email you again.

Tenant

I understand.  I need proof that you own the flat first.  Then I can send you proof of transfer.

You send me proof of ownership (OK, it doesn’t have to be a photo of you) > I send you proof of transfer > you send me the keys.

Really, I just need something to show me you are able to rent the flat to me.  I would be stupid not to demand this.  Do you think I’m stupid?

‘Landlord’

I gave you the contract form that’s what you need. No problem you can look else where.

Tenant

OK OK, wait.  Here’s the proof of transfer.  Now when do I get the keys, yo?

‘Landlord’

Time waster

—————————

At this point our tenant got fed up of trying to get more info and decided to call it a day. A valiant (and entertaining) attempt though, I think you’ll agree! Let’s hope Pete the cobra was finally re-housed somewhere with a calming colour palette