Debbie Randle at the BBC online’s Newsbeat has discovered that more and more young people looking for somewhere to rent are being conned out of thousands of pounds in online scams. Trading Standards say there’s been a big rise in the number of would-be tenants falling for it and websites like Gumtree and Craigslist aren’t doing enough to protect them.
These scams are getting more and more clever. The fraudsters work hard to gain the trust of those people asking about their flats and houses. In one of the newer scams you’re asked to prove you have enough money by transferring some via a company like Western Union or Moneygram. If you’re not happy about sending it to them, then you can send it to someone you trust, like a mate. You email the fraudster a copy of the receipt, but before you know it they’ve posed as your mate and made off with the cash.
The BBC posed as a tenant and emailed a few ads that looked a bit too good to be true. Within a few hours we’d had a number of replies. You can follow one case by clicking here:
Twenty-three year-old Sophie moved down to London from Birmingham. But it hasn’t been an easy move.
She spotted the first flat she wanted online. It looked great – two bedrooms, in a nice safe area of London and all at a bargain price of £85 per week.
There wasn’t enough time to go and view it so after a few e-mails with the ‘landlady’ Sophie decided she trusted her enough to wire over some cash.
But £400 later, the money had gone, and so had the flat.
“Even after I transferred the money I was wondering if I should tell her all the details to pick it up, but I just really needed somewhere and really quick so that’s why I did.
“I was really upset and kind of mostly annoyed. Looking back it’s so obvious. But when you need something really quick. It’s just horrible that people can do that.”
Sophie was more careful with the next flat. She and her mum Sue have already been down to view it before move-in day.
It’s not exactly what she wanted, she’ll be sharing her room with two other mates. They have a single bed and a chest of drawers each, and there’s a sofa in the middle of the room.
“I am quite happy here and with the situation. So I don’t feel like I’ve lost out , because in a way it’s better being with your friends.
“I think ideally it would have a bit more space because there’s three of us in here, but it will be fine. It’ll be just like a little holiday for us so it will be quite fun.”
Do Websites Do Enough?
Trading Standards say they’re getting very worried about the scale of these scams, and want websites like Gumtree and Craigslist to do more to stop it. This includes more warnings on their sites and more vetting of the adverts to make sure bogus adverts are not posted in the first place.
They also want the money transfer companies Western Union and Moneygram to have more security in place to stop the fraudsters getting their hands on the money.
And They Say:
Craigslist says it uses a wide array of technological and staff measures to suppress scam attempts. Scams that do reach the site are generally quickly identified and removed by user flagging.
Gumtree says it takes it very seriously. It always does its best to protect users online and the vast majority have a safe and successful experience. Their dedicated safety section, as well as the rotating safety tips on the Gumtree homepage and across the site, strongly advise all users to never wire or send money using money transfer services.
Spareroom says it’s not as big a problem on its site as they’ve taken active steps to tackle it. It’s employed someone full time just to look out for these kind of scams. It also monitors every advert sent in.
Moneygram place warnings on their send forms and website and provide warnings when customers contact the call centre. It works with law enforcement agencies around the world to keep up to date on new scams and the latest fraudulent activities.
Western Union includes consumer protection information at virtually every touchpoint with consumers. This includes when people send funds over the phone and in physical locations at the point of sale. Agents are taught about the various types of fraud and watch for behaviour that may indicate a consumer is at risk.