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Scams to look out for

Scams to look out for

We've always been proud of our efforts to monitor and check every single ad posted, to stop fraudsters in their tracks. But sometimes things slip through the net, and it's important to be aware of them.

Here are a few of the most common scams we've spotted over the years at SpareRoom, and how to outsmart them.

The 'pre-paid' card scam

How it works:

  • The landlord of the room you're interested in will ask for the deposit as usual, but request it to a pre-paid card.
  • They'll then disappear with your money. The nature of these cards means the funds on them aren't insured and you likely won't have legal protection to claim your money back.

How to avoid it:

  • Use a sort code checker before transferring money to any advertisers. The checker will show if the 'account' is a real bank account, or a pre-paid service.
  • If you're making a transfer in a branch rather than online, ask your bank to verify the payment's destination first.

The 'short term let' scam

How it works:

  • Someone will have access to an empty property, usually because it's being let on a short term let or holiday let website.
  • They'll advertise it to rent, will conduct viewings and then take the deposit money upfront (sometimes handing keys over too).
  • They'll disappear (with your money) as soon as you're ready to move in, and you won't be able to have the room.

How to avoid it:

  • Don't hand money over until you've seen the landlord/advertiser's ID.
  • If you think you're ready to pay a deposit, use a credit card instead - you'll have extra protection to claim if something goes wrong.

The 'for sale' scam

How it works:

  • The scammer will find a property online that's for sale (not to rent). They'll check the land registry and find out what the land owner's name is.
  • They'll upload an ad for the property on SpareRoom, using the land owner's name.
  • They may message users to invite them to view the property.
  • They'll tell interested tenants that the property is for sale as well as for rent.
  • They'll pretend they're abroad, claiming there's a disagreement between themselves and the estate agent about letting the property out – and will convince potential tenants to arrange a viewing with the estate agent, posing as a potential buyer.
  • If the tenant likes the property, the scammer will ask them to send the deposit directly to them.
  • Inevitably, the tenant will never hear from them again and won't be able to (legally) move into the property.

How to avoid it:

  • Any landlord who asks you to pretend to be a buyer in order to view a property is NOT a legitimate landlord.
  • For £3, use the Land Registry search tool to check if someone is the property's legal owner.
  • Research the landlord on LinkedIn or Google beforehand, and ask to see their ID (passport/driving licence) before handing any money over.

The 'overpayment' scam

How it works:

  • The scammer will pose as a room seeker and will offer to pay upfront for a room (without viewing it) as they aren't in the country.
  • They'll 'accidentally' pay too much money, and ask you to send the difference back.
  • You'll send the difference back, but their original payment will then bounce back, be recalled or won't actually clear – leaving you out of pocket.

How to avoid it:

  • Be wary of anyone that offers to pay without actually viewing a room.
  • Use a sort code checker when their payment reaches your account to see if it's legitimate.

The 'Western Union' scam

How it works:

  • The person advertising the room will ask for a money transfer for the 'rent or deposit' before you've even seen the room.
  • They'll claim this is needed to secure the property.
  • This transaction will be untraceable, so your bank can't intervene if the money goes missing and you're left room-less.
  • The 'advertiser' may ask you to send the money to a friend and send a photo of the receipt to prove you have enough money to rent the room. They'll then use the receipt to collect the cash, and you'll probably never hear from them again.

How to avoid it:

  • NEVER use Western Union unless you know the person you're sending the money to.
  • Don't hand money over for anything before you've seen it.
  • If you can't see the room yourself (e.g. you're overseas), arrange for someone you trust to view it for you before committing any money to it.

The golden rule:

Remember: if something looks and sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your judgement, and don't be afraid to walk away if something doesn't feel right. And don’t forget, you can always contact our customer services team if you’re unsure about anything or just need some advice.