Your Questions: Beware foreign 'landlord' deposit scams
Q: My girlfriend and I have been looking for an apartment to rent for months and recently viewed a really nice place in an area we like. The rent is very reasonable and the landlord only showed it to us as he lives in Britain and didn't want the hassle of showing it to lots of people.
He says he would like to rent it to us and asked that we would transfer one month's rent and a deposit to his account in Britain - via bank transfer. He is back in Britain now and said he'll post us a signed lease and the keys once he gets the money. How can I check he's legit?
Brian, Cabra, Dublin 7
As you probably know, there is a shortage of rental properties in most areas which means demand is high. Unfortunately, there have also been reports of scammers taking advantage of this.
I would be very cautious about paying out money until you have more information.
Ask yourself is it a bit suspicious in the current climate that the landlord only showed the property to you and no other prospective tenants - particularly given that he had to travel over from Britain to show it to you in the first place?
Did he ask you for references or do any checks himself before he agreed to rent you the property?
Are there tenants living in the property at the moment that you could talk to so that you can verify that he is in fact the property owner?
There is a rental accommodation scam known as 'meet and greet'. After you've viewed the property, this scam begins. Generally you will be asked to pay a deposit and one or two month's rent upfront in cash - and in return, you will be given the keys. When you turn up at the property, you discover the keys don't work and the landlord is no longer contactable. You may arrive at the same time as others who were also tricked into paying cash for a set of keys that won't work. The scammer and your deposit are gone for good.
There are tell-tale signs of rental accommodation scams. These can include a landlord living abroad who claims to be interested in renting out a home, and a landlord who asks for funds to be transferred using a money-transfer service - or bank transfer. Emails or listings with spelling and grammar mistakes are also a tell-tale sign.
It is very important to carry out checks before handing over any money - including physically viewing the property, which you have done. Don't make payments until you have been given the keys and have signed the lease - and always use a secure method of payment, such as Paypal.
If you pay using a money-transfer service, you have no way of tracing the payment, and you will have no comeback if something goes wrong.
Making late start on pension
Q I recently turned 40 and I need to get my act together with my pension. In the past, I have delayed starting a pension plan because I had a lot of debt which I was paying off and I wanted to get that cleared. I am not sure where to start and worry that I have left it too late. I am hoping to do lots of travelling when I retire so I know I will need to save for that. What should I do next?
John, Cootehill, Co Cavan
It's not too late to start saving for your retirement and it is vital to have a pension plan in place if you want to keep your current standard of living and be able to travel and enjoy your retirement. So the sooner you start the better.
The first step is to decide on the type of pension that's right for you. This depends on your personal circumstances - for example, are you an employee or are you self-employed?
The Pensions Authority website, www.pensionsauthority.ie, allows you to personalise pension information to your own circumstances so it is a great place to start.
It also has a handy pension calculator which helps you work out the amount you need to be paying into your pension to have a certain level of income in retirement.
If you are an employee, ask your employer if it has a pension scheme which you can join. The advantage of an employer pension scheme is that your employer will usually make a contribution in addition to your own contributions - which increases the value of your fund.
If your employer does not offer a pension scheme, you must be provided with access to a standard Personal Retirement Savings Account (PRSA). PRSAs are a type of personal pension policy that are open to anyone - employed, self-employed or those currently not working - to save for retirement. These are more flexible than traditional personal pension plans.
Personal pension plans are private pensions managed for you by a life assurance company or investment firm. Anyone who is self-employed, or who can't join an employer pension plan, can start a personal pension plan.
All PRSAs and personal pension plans are set up as defined contribution plans which means the value of your pension at retirement is not guaranteed and will depend on the level of contributions you make, the growth of your pension fund, and the charges you pay.
If you are unsure about your pension options, you should think about getting financial advice as it can be hard to know where to start. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has information on its consumer website (www.consumerhelp.ie) to help you understand what sort of advice you might need, how to choose an adviser, and how much it may cost you. Once you have set up your pension, it is important to regularly review your plan to see how it is performing and to make sure that you are contributing enough to give you the income you need at retirement. This is particularly important if you have a defined contribution plan.
Tradesman deposit dilemma
Q I hired a tradesman to source and fit a new kitchen. However since I hired him, I have heard a few negative things about the quality of his work and I would like to use another supplier. The problem is that I paid him a €500 deposit which he is refusing to return. How can I get my money back?
Catherine, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim
When you pay a deposit, this is an indication to the supplier (in your case, the tradesman) that you intend to buy a product or service and that you are entering into a contract with them.
This contract does not necessarily have to be in writing. It can be a verbal contract and so when you pay a deposit, you are bound by the terms of that contract. It is important to make sure that you and the supplier are clear about all the details.
If you received a written contract from the tradesman, this should outline both your and his rights and responsibilities, including what would happen if you cancel.
Generally, deposits are non-refundable - unless a contract says otherwise. If you were not told that the deposit would be non-refundable and you consider this to be unfair or unreasonable, raise this with the tradesman in writing.
You can find information on how to complain on the CCPC's consumer website www.consumerhelp.ie. It is important to know that he does not have to offer you anything unless it was specified in the contract, either in writing or verbally.
If it turns out you are not entitled to get a refund of your deposit, try discussing your concerns with the tradesman - he may be able to put your mind at ease.
There may be another explanation for the negative things you have heard. For larger jobs in particular, it is important to research any contractor you hire in advance and get a recommendation if you can. It is also important to have a clear agreement in writing, including details of their insurance and registration number before they start work. The agreement should describe what the contractor will be supplying and the payment schedule.
Aine Carroll Director of Communications and Market Insights with the CCPC (www.ccpc.ie)
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Sunday Indo Business