Expat landlords warned to beware of online subletting fraud

Published:  6 Nov at 6 PM
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As if expat buy-to-let landlords with UK properties don’t have enough problems, this latest online scam could prove to be the last straw.

The scam is aimed at landlords who advertise their properties online, and is at present targeting the AirBnB website. Fraudsters rent a property for a few days or weeks, then advertise it on other letting sites, interviewing prospective tenants and taking huge deposits before disappearing with the cash.

One luxury Kensington apartment was let via AirBnB to a UK-based group of scammers for four days, during which time they managed to sub-let through the website spareroom.co.uk to five individual applicants. The group disappeared with a total of £8,500 in advance rents, leaving the expat landlord to sort out the mess.

The scam is international, as the owner of a large New York apartment found when she discovered that her weekend renters had simply used her property for a huge rave party, leaving it trashed and filthy. Her repair bill ran to over $2,000, and other landlords in the USA have had weekend renters claiming squatters’ rights.

According to local police, the UK fraudsters appear to be very well organised, dealing through a fake letting agency and using genuine shorthold tenancy documents with fake names and addresses. One victim was told her deposit was protected and was shown a bogus registration document relating to the government-approved website mydeposit.co.uk.

The buy-to-let owners’ website Landlord Action has previously warned about the scam, stating that the fraudsters are almost impossible to trace and advising would-be tenants to check renters’ details carefully. Potential renters should request details of the landlord’s compulsory registration with a tenancy deposit scheme and confirm the legitimacy of the rental through the scheme.

It seems that expat landlords offering short-term lets have little protection from these frauds, especially if they are not using a local agent or the property has been damaged. Home insurance policies will not cover damage or financial loss and commercial insurance is, for many expat landlords, an expensive luxury.
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