Find Home Together

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.

Please note: scammers are constantly changing their tactics, so there may be other types of scam that aren’t on this list yet. Be vigilant and trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed how we find a new home – many people now opt for online or video viewings instead of in-person ones, to reduce the risk of transmission. This isn’t generally anything to worry about, but do be aware of the fact that it’s also easier for scammers to find excuses not to show a property in person right now. The golden rule: don’t hand over any money until you’ve seen it in real life, and use your common sense.

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.
  • Cross-reference the ID with the land registry documents of the property, but keep in mind that it’s easy for scammers to doctor documents online nowadays.
  • Run a check to see if the property is on other holiday rental/short term let websites.
  • 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 'fake Airbnb ad' scam

How it works:

  • The scammer will message and ask for your contact details straight away, so they can carry the conversation on off the website.
  • They’ll then show you a video of the advertised property as they can’t arrange a viewing in person (they may say they’re out of the country, or can’t hold viewings due to the pandemic).
  • The scammer will send you a fake link to the property (posing as a legitimate website, like Airbnb) that looks exactly like the genuine website.
  • The fake listing will include instructions on how to proceed with the payment – this usually requires a direct bank transfer to an international bank account.
  • Once you’ve made the payment, they may come up with different stories around why further payments are needed, and reassure you that you’ll get a refund.
  • When you’re about to “move in“, the advertiser will have disappeared.

How to avoid it:

  • Always check whether the link you’re given is a genuine URL – most websites will have a list of the different links/domains they use.
  • Don’t transfer money to a bank account that belongs to someone you didn’t correspond with, and be extra cautious of international payments.
  • Contact the original listings website directly (not through the link you received) to check whether the listing or link in question is genuine.

The 'no live advert' scam

How it works:

  • You’ll get a message from someone who’s recently joined the site, however, they haven’t yet posted an advert of the available property.
  • In their message, they’ll offer a property for rent. The property’s location will match your search area, or they may just say they know a number of landlords who’d be willing to accommodate you.
  • They’ll then try to take the conversation off-site.
  • They’ll give a number of reasons why a viewing isn’t possible, and you’ll be asked instead to pay a deposit based on the photos you received.
  • You may be sent a copy of the landlord’s ID however, this will be most likely be a fake or stolen document.

How to avoid it:

  • Try doing your own research – a simple Google image search may reveal that the property isn't even for rent, or the photos were taken of a completely different property.
  • Ask yourself the following questions: why haven’t they posted an advert on the site? Why isn’t it possible to meet the landlord in person, let alone view the property?
  • If the rent is heavily discounted or very cheap for the area, use common sense – this is usually a red flag.

The 'fake lettings agency' scam

How it works:

  • The scammer or group of scammers will pose as a genuine lettings agency. They may even have created a website to prove legitimacy.
  • You might even be able to view the property or room in question, but once they’ve received a requested payment from you to “secure” the property, they’ll become uncontactable.

How to avoid it:

  • Always check the name of the business on Companies House to get further information and see if they’re legitimate.
  • Make sure the agency is registered with a Property Redress Scheme.
  • Check the agency’s office address – if they appear to be in a temporary or flexible office space (i.e. a co-work), this could be a warning sign that they aren’t who they say they are.
  • A quick online search may give you an idea of the agency’s background and whether it’s a well-established business.

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 '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 advertise the property 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 'phishing' scam

How it works:

  • This is a common scam across the web, where you’ll receive a fraudulent email or text from a company asking you to login to your account for ‘security’ reasons.
  • If you fill your details in, the scammer will then have access to your personal details and can access your account (and often money).

How to avoid it:

  • Be wary. SpareRoom will never contact you by text, so if you receive a suspicious message just ignore it and tell us straight away.
  • If you think you’ve fallen victim to this type of scam, change your password right away and consider updating your login details for any websites you’ve used this password for.
  • If you’ve entered card or bank account details, contact your bank as soon as possible.

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.