The advice that Action Fraud and commentators sometimes provide such as in today's Guardian story can help against the chances of being scammed but it's not enough in the fight against professional fraudsters who are making over £1 million a week as fake landlords.
Let's go through the top advice.
Never hand over money before viewing a property in person. Ideally visit the property with the landlord. Many fraudsters have access to the property. For example check out this Fake Agent scam involving Airbnb. When my brother and Co-Founder David was scammed the fraudster was an ex-tenant who had kept a copy of the keys.
Ask the landlord to verify ID and for safety certificates. It is not difficult to create a fake ID and falsify documents. A bit of photoshop and a quality printer. For the thousands of pounds a fraudster can make it's little effort.
Check the landlord is the legal owner of the property using the land registry. Just confirming the owner's name using the land registry doesn't verify the person in front of you is the legitimate landlord. Combined with the ability to create a fake ID and other documents this appears convincing to a prospective tenant.
Check the landlord is registered to a tenancy deposit scheme. Again using the simple methods above, such as falsifying documents and pretending to be the actual landlord this is achieved.
Pay a deposit using a credit card if possible. Without knowing who the landlord really is you don't know where money is being sent. Whilst there is some protection for credit card purchases we do not recommend sharing your credit card details with a stranger!
Only hand over money when you have seen a written contract and checked it. Again, very easy to falsify this.
When advice like this is given it helps many renters, however it also enables the fraudsters to appear more genuine as it becomes a checklist of things to be prepared for.
After our own experience being scammed (and following this same advice) we developed RentProfile as a robust landlord checking service. It works with any UK rental opportunity or any listings website.
RentProfile provides an online UK landlord checking service that can prevent against fake landlord fraud. Landlords can sign up for free (thanks to those who already have), create a landlord profile and be added to our directory which is also searchable for free. If the landlord isn't in our directory then we provide a landlord check report for £9 which covers things like housing prosecutions, CCJ's, and whether the landlord is licensed - a requirement in many areas of the UK now. We also check against records of reports we hear from renters. If you've been scammed or had a bad experience with a rogue landlord then please send us the details.