How to avoid rental scams?

Hi there! It is the second week of August. At this time in 2018, I just received an unconditional offer from the University of Surrey and was busy applying for a student visa. To all the admitted students, hope your application goes well. It is actually quite lucky that we are still able to return to campus to continue our studies. As far as I know, my friends studying in China and the United States are still not allowed to return to their universities, while UK universities encourage and welcome us to go back to campus. I personally think that there are some modules or lessons that couldn’t be replaced by online teaching, (such as laboratory work), and it is such a shame that we may not be able to get involved in events like Varsity games and Fresher Fair, which are among the most memorable activities in our university life. However, our health and safety are now the top priority, it is fairly reasonable that certain regulations and safety standards should be followed to keep us safe.

Alright, last week I talked about my experience and my two cents about the difference between renting a property in London and in Guildford. As I mentioned last week, due to the high demand and high rent of housing in London, this could be a huge opportunity for scammers to commit fraudulent activities. I nearly get scammed when I was looking for accommodation in London. I joined a few Facebook groups which consist of thousands of potential landlords and tenants. I posted a message asking if there are any properties available for rent that suit my requirement and the scammer messaged me privately and told me that she has a perfect room for me, asked me if I am interested. At that time, I felt quite negative because most of the properties that I wanted were either too expensive or too far away from my workplace. To be honest, I was hooked because from the photos and videos sent to me,  the room looked new, clean and tidy, while the rent is much lower than I expected. Therefore, after asking for further details, I agreed to sign a tenancy agreement.

I did not realize it was a fraud until I signed the contract. The contract looked very suspicious. Firstly, the tenancy agreement was much shorter than a normal agreement (I rented a room in Guildford last year so I know that the contract is too short and not following the guidelines/model contracts published by the UK government.) The details about deposit and landlord’s obligations are not clearly stated and one of the sentences was incomplete. Secondly, I doubted that the law firm is illegal/does not exist, because I have searched about the firm and the lawyer’s email and there is no relevant information on Google. I asked the scammer about this and she said the lawyer is her personal lawyer for many years. However, interestingly, I found that the address of the firm is actually the address of one of the national lottery post offices. Furthermore, I checked on a government website, shockingly, all the flat numbers in the postcode are odd numbers, but the flat number on the tenancy agreement is an even number. I was pretty sure that it was a scam because I couldn’t find the flat in the list of properties of that postcode. (It is tricky, the scammer simply changed the last alphabet of the postcode on the contract.)

(The government website is: ).

However, when I spot/identified the suspicion, I have already signed the contract and sent it back to the scammer. Therefore, while I was investigating the contract, she started to send me messages on Facebook, asking me to pay for the deposit and rent. I questioned her that the property does not exist and asked her to provide evidence of her ownership of the property. She denied, she even said that I was very disrespectful to ask for the evidence/documents (eg. Energy performance certificate, gas safety certificate…), she even said that she had never encountered tenants like me who intended to delay payments by asking those disrespectful questions. In the end, she refused to provide evidence. She said she will show me when I move in. Okay, I then ‘challenged’ her by asking for physical viewing. I said that I would ask my friend to get to the apartment and have a look at those documents. (I only viewed the property by photos and videos when I signed the contract because I am not in the UK.) A few hours later, without any replies, she blocked me on Facebook. I further confirm that she is a scammer. If she wasn’t, why didn’t she provide the documents and why did she blocked me when I asked for physical viewing?

She asked me to pay the deposit and 12 months’rent at first, and I doubted it. I screenshot my conversation with her.
She blocked me, so I can’t see her replies anymore.

In a nutshell, we have to pay more attention when we are looking for properties. Rental scams are common especially in big cities/cosmopolitans like London. Study the contract in detailed, consider any suspicions and follow up on them. If you are in doubt, try to consult your parents, USL (University Surrey Lettings, or search online similar situations. I hope that my experience could make you alert/vigilant when doing flat search and help you spot a fraud immediately.