'If it sounds too good to be true it probably is' - students warned over rental scams
One opportunistic scammer in Dublin used their own rented home to advertise it to unsuspecting house hunters before making off with a large sum of money a senior garda has said.
Gardaí have issued a stark warning to students about a spike in rental scams as the rush for accommodation begins.
While rental scams occur throughout the year, Sergeant Amanda Flood from the Garda Crime Prevention National Centre of Excellence said there is a spike when new third level students are seeking accommodation.
“It’s an ongoing thing. It tends to rear its head more and more particularly at this time of year when there is a new flush of students,” Sgt Flood told Independent.ie.
The scam falls into three broad categories where the scammer either claims to be out of the country and requests a deposit without doing a viewing, is renting the property themselves and pretends to be the owner before disappearing with the deposit, or carries out the transaction as normal before the renter discovers the keys don’t work.
Sgt Flood said people have been brought to court earlier this year for such scams.
“I know of a case earlier this year in Dublin where a renter was coming to tail end of their lease and showed the property to a number of people and made off with a significant amount of cash,” she said.
She said she is aware of these cases in all types of properties from apartments to houses as the scammer often doesn't need to be associated with the property at all.
“We’re trying to give advice to people now before they become another victim,” Sgt Flood added.
An Garda Siochána has issued several pieces of advice for house-hunting students including a caution to always meet with a prospective landlord in the accommodation to be rented, asking for identification, using cheques or bank drafts and ensuring keys fit the doors before paying a deposit.
“Caution is advised if the rent sounds too good to be true," gardaí warn.
Property owners should also be aware of these types of scam.
“Our advice would be: know who you’re renting to and know who you’re renting from. Get identification and make sure it tallies with the person that’s there,” Sgt Flood added.
The Private Residential Tenancies Board rent index provides students with an authoritative guide to actual rents being charged by landlords adjacent to all third level institutions.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is also urging students to be wary and cautious of the scams.
"It is something that happens every year. Landlords are taking advantage of people who are desperate because of the shortage of accommodation," said USI President Michael Kerrigan.
“Use cheques or bank drafts to pay the deposit and keep copies of receipts of payments and any correspondence. Don’t hand over any cash to anyone, because you will not have a record or trace of your deposit. Students are handing up to two months rent as a deposit, and this kind of money being stolen can have a serious impact on a student’s ability to afford college for the coming year.”
Mr Kerrigan said he has heard of cases where students have handed over a deposit and never heard from the landlord again, or have shown up to the house to discover the keys don't work.
“It’s a shame that people are taking advantage of students like this. Students should visit the accommodation they’re hoping to rent before sending over any sum of money”, he said.
He said students should get a photograph of the landlord's proof of ID.
“Meet the landlord and ask for proof of ID if you’re unsure. If you’re worried that you’re being led into a scam, alert the gardaí or your students’ union right away. It is always better to be safe. Don’t rush into any arrangement that looks too good to be true," he added.