GARDAÍ are warning students after recent incidents of accommodation fraud in Cork city, and after a Cork person was duped out of more than €1,000 for a rental property abroad.
In a recent incident, one person lost €900 after paying for accommodation through an online payment service. In another, a person lost €500 after responding to an advertisement for accommodation. Both properties were supposed to be in Cork city.
However, in one case, the property did not exist, while in the other case, the prospective renter called to the property after paying a deposit to discover that the property was not up for rent.
Meanwhile, a woman moving to Abu Dhabi found a property online which she planned to rent. She sent more than €1,000 in an online payment to secure the property but she had been duped and the property did not exist.
Now, gardaí want students to be aware of such scams as they prepare for the start of the academic year.
In the first five months of this year, there were 20 incidents of accommodation fraud in Cork city, with a total of €24,000 lost to fraudsters. The biggest sum lost by an individual was €5,000. In some instances, people were sent keys for properties which did not exist.
Crime prevention officer Sergeant Brian McSweeney said people need to take a number of steps to ensure they are not caught for accommodation fraud.
He said: “People need to make sure the house exists and they should meet the landlord on site.
The Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA) has also advised students searching for accommodation to be aware of potential bogus letting agents.
University College Cork Students’ Union Welfare Officer, Caoimhe Walsh said they had a case this summer when six students were due to move into a property near campus.
“They paid a deposit to the landlord and then the landlord completely ghosted them. It wasn’t real. They were scammed out of money,” she said.
“Thank God they had no instalments of rent paid but they all lost out on €300 and that’s six people.” The students found the property online and with increasing demand this year for accommodation with the return to campus, Ms Walsh said people are often “desperate” to secure something.
With students due to return to classes from next week she said they have “not yet” had any additional reports of rental scams.
Ms Walsh urged students to ensure that the house they are moving into is registered with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).
CEO of the PSRA, Maeve Hogan said students need to be vigilant when searching for accommodation.
“A key action that students should take to help safeguard themselves against rental scams is to check that the letting agent they are using is licensed,” she said.
“Using a licensed agent provides consumer protection and if something does go wrong, a client may be entitled to compensation from the PSRA compensation fund.”
You should only use recognised letting agencies or deal with people who are bona fida and trusted. Websites can be cloned, check the URL to ensure it’s a real website and take note of the privacy and refund policy sections.
Be very wary of social media advertisements or where a person letting the location will only communicate via messenger or whatsapp. You should push for direct answers and if responses are vague disengage immediately.
Watch out for unsolicited contacts or where the contact appears to be based in other jurisdictions and especially if there is a sense of urgency like "a one-time offer”.
If you have decided to take up the offer only use trusted money transfer systems, I would recommend using a credit card. Never transfer money direct, pay cash, pay into cryptocurrency wallets.
Be wary if a website is asking you to send money to a random PayPal address, wire it by Western Union, pay in iTunes gift cards or only deals in cryptocurrency. The majority of the time, those methods are done to avoid scrutiny and ensure that a transaction can’t be reversed.