Landlords need to be vigilant

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Agents and landlords are being warned about a scam concerning identity fraud.

Phoney tenants secure a tenancy in blocks of flats where post is delivered and left in communal areas.

The fake tenant then goes through the other occupants’ post, stealing their IDs and using their credit cards and bank cards to buy expensive goods.

The fraudulent tenant is likely to have produced convincing ID and references, fooling the agent or landlord, and to have paid the deposit and advance rent without trouble.

However the ID documents will have been stolen and the money will have been paid via a debit or credit card belonging to someone else.

A letting agent in Lancashire was recently hit by such a scam.

“I did not believe there was any problem when I moved the tenant into a property in early December,” he said. “There was certainly no problem with the references. The first I knew anything was wrong was when I got a call from police to say they had found a set of keys belonging to my agency during a raid on another property, about ten miles away.”

During that raid, police apparently discovered a large number of high-worth items, including iPads and iPhones, all bought with stolen credit and debit cards, and awaiting export where they would be sold abroad.

The keys were returned by the police to the agent who identified them as belonging to the flat he had let.

The tenant in question called into the agent’s office, who asked for another set of keys, claiming to have lost the first. But when told by the agents that the police wished to speak to him, he fled in a taxi and has apparently not been seen since. The police investigation is ongoing.

In the block of flats concerned, the fake tenant had managed to steal the identities of three of the six occupants, much to their distress.

The agent has since been approached by the debit card company and told that the ‘tenant’ had paid via a stolen debit card, and that the true holder had noticed the large sum of money going out of their account and wanted it refunding.

The incident was almost certainly part of a huge and widespread fraud where the modus operandi is for the fake tenant to enter into a tenancy in the usual way for a flat, furnished or unfurnished, arousing no suspicions.

However, the tenant generally stays only for one or two nights, leaving as soon as he or she has accomplished their true purpose.

This type of scam highlights the importance of thorough vetting of tenants. It is very difficult to prevent a determined and clever fraudster but it is vital to ensure proper checks on ID address and employment.

Anything that looks suspicious warrants further investigation and landlords and letting agents should make no apologies for this.

Many landlords believe that they can recognise an honest person and that they don’t need to go to the expense of getting a professional tenant reference.

Unfortunately these sentiments are no longer true. There are some very plausible people who make a profession out of “scamming” unsuspecting landlords.

They are polite, well turned out, appear well educated and to have good jobs.

Unfortunately they are not what they appear to be. So follow these basic steps if you want to avoid being saddled with the ‘tenants from hell’.

Most letting agents carry out stringent checks on applicants. They carry out checks on the prospective tenant’s credit worthiness and authenticate their personal details. The basic checks should always include the following: 

n Electoral roll to verify current and previous address.

n Check for County Court Judgements (CCJs), bankruptcy and any court based voluntary financial arrangements to ascertain any poor credit history.

n An affordability check to ensure that the tenant is able to afford the rent on their stated earnings.

n Validate the bank address and sort code given by status to ensure it is legitimate

n Check submitted details against stored data on file

n Wherever possible obtain photographic ID evidence (most people now have either a passport or Photo driving licence).

n Ask for an e-mail address. Corroborative details can often be found on networking sites such as Facebook and the e-mail address often has an association with the name of the applicant.

Agents and landlords always need to be alert for anything unusual that could increase the risk for the landlord and do follow-up checks where necessary.