Rental fraud a growing threat for agents and landlords

Published: 17/10/2023 By Musgrove & Co

In the midst of a relentless cost-of-living crisis and higher mortgage rates, the demand for rental properties has surged. However, this spike in demand has also given rise to a concerning trend – rental fraud. Economic hardships often drive individuals to desperate measures, leading to an increase in fraudulent activities within the rental market. Fraudsters target high-end properties, enjoying temporary occupancy without any intention of fulfilling their financial obligations.
Homeppl fraud prevention technology quoted in Estate Agent Today said attempted fraudulent applications doubled in 2022. In fact, Homeppl believe that 5% of all rental properties in the UK are currently being rented to tenant fraudsters. 

What rental fraud looks like: prospective tenants 

To support their application, you’re going to credit check prospective tenants and ask them for documents to prove their right to rent in the UK, prior residency, employment history and payslips, income from bank statements and references from previous landlords. However, it’s pretty easy these days for anyone to amend a PDF to create ‘fake news’. They can change their name, or adjust the income shown, or lie about their credit score and it’s hard for the human eye to spot. Advanced fraudsters go beyond this by using software and other tools to create fake websites, conceal active CCJs against them and hide their real financial and residential history. There are even websites where people can buy a fake credit file to pass on to you. 
Suppose an applicant successfully passes your screening process. At this stage, fraudsters may attempt to make a payment. They might offer to pay you through a wire transfer but instead send you a cheque for an amount greater than what you originally requested. Then, they ask you to return the excess funds before the cheque potentially bounces. This leaves you without both the initial payment and the money you returned. 
Sadly, penalties are not a sufficient deterrent. Scammers who get caught face losing their holding deposit – but that doesn’t stop them making further fraudulent applications. 

What rental fraud looks like: existing tenants 

Imagine you’ve accidentally accepted a dodgy tenant. They will deliberately run up huge arrears, while making convincing promises to pay. Typically, they will refuse to move out until you evict them – and that’s not as easy as it used to be. 
Another scam is where a tenant will deliberately damage your property so they can raise a complaint against you and avoid paying the rent. 
In another scenario, you might find your existing tenants are illegally subletting. They might invite a family member to stay or bring in co-tenants to help them cover their costs. However, those co-tenants might have a poor credit score or even a criminal history – not the type of people you thought you were letting to at all. 
Another approach is for a fraudster to download all the lovely images and descriptions you created for your property and then to relist it on another letting site. In this case, they’ll quote an increased rent and pocket the difference. Or they might let it to someone else, and when you go to collect rent arrears, you turn up to find complete strangers in your property. Or they might collect an upfront payment from an unsuspecting third party which goes direct to them, while the poor victim pays the fraudster but never gets the keys. 

What this means to landlords and letting agents 

Sad to say, but some people commit multiple fraud with multiple agencies. Presumably, it must be worth their while. But you don’t want to be among their victims. Happily, there are actions you can take to protect yourself. 
Tenant-referencing is already a legal requirement. Always take up references and check them thoroughly. Screen application documents to ensure they have not been falsified. Meet tenants in person so you can make your own judgement. 
Luckily, technology is always advancing in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the fraudsters. Look for specialist companies and software to help. Harness it to do your due diligence for you, and you can enjoy peace of mind knowing your tenants are good ones and your rental income is secure. 
Make sure your rental agreement includes a clause that forbids your tenants from sub-letting to a third party. Also, ensure that co-tenants get named and verified on your tenancy agreements. If not, the agreement can be terminated. 
It’s a great quality to be trusting, to assume your new tenant is nice and a good person. But you should always wait for their money to clear in your bank account before you can assume it’s been paid. So you need to be a bit suspicious too. 
If you're considering letting a property or require expert advice on the rental market in Norfolk, get in touch with Musgrove & Co—an independent letting agent with local market expertise. We aim to provide a seamless letting experience and add value whenever possible. Contact us today at our Norwich or North Walsham office.