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Bond scams

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Almost everybody knows someone that has been ripped off by a landlord. It seems to be a fact of life. It doesn't have to be though. Below, we give you some basic advice about how to make sure you don't get stung by your landlord or someone posing as a landlord as well as giving a couple of examples that have happened to people we know.

Basic advice

  • Make sure that you verify the identity of the landlord before you hand any money over, especially if you are using a private landlord.

  • Try to verify that you are dealing with the actual owner of the property (see scam1). Ask to see some personal identification, such as utility bills for the property in that persons name. If the 'owner' struggles to find something or gets a bit cagey, be very careful.

  • Make sure that you have their address and phone number for future contact.

  • Always, always ask for a written receipt for any money that is handed over and check their signature against one on a bank card. Don't be embarrassed, any good landlord will not mind you being thorough. In fact they will probably like the fact that you are diligent - it might mean that you look after their property!

  • To try to avoid any cowboys, why not ask the landlord for a reference. It may seem a bit cheeky, but you are quite entitled to do so. He or she should have name and address or phone number of any previous tenants if the property is unoccupied. If they start getting cagey or evasive, think twice before handing over your deposit.

Do you have any advice for avoiding bond scams? Have you been 'done over' good and proper? Let us know your story.

Scam 1 - The owner that never was
John Braggshaw* had been looking around for a flat for a couple of weeks. Through a local free ads publication, John found a flat in Camden, North London, which he liked the sound of. It was pretty cheap for the area it was in, so he went to have a look.

On his arrival at the flat, he was met by a young man who showed him round the property. John couldn't help but notice the rather old man sat in a chair in the kitchen throughout his stay. On inquiry, it was pointed out that this was the young man's uncle, who was going to move out of the property and in with his nephew, as he was no longer able to maintain the property. The place was a bit of a mess and the Irish bloke said it would be great if John wanted to redecorate - he would even help out with the cost of the paint.

To secure the property, John paid a deposit of one month's rent, in cash, for which he received a handwritten receipt. They agreed that John would move in two weeks later. No contract was signed.

As the moving in day drew nearer, John contacted the old man's nephew to arrange to pick up the keys. To his horror, the Irish guy informed John that his uncle no longer wanted to move out and the whole thing was off. When pressed, he admitted that he had spent John's money, though he declined to say what he had spent it on. John was told not to worry as the man was being paid the next week. John did worry and continued to contact the man to try to recover his deposit.

The next week, he could not get a response from the man and when he did finally speak to him, he was threatened with physical assault if he phoned again. Distraught, John got in touch with the police and explained what had happened. In John's own words, the police were useless. They could not find the man, despite having his name, address and phone number. On interviewing the man's 'uncle' they found he knew nothing about what had gone on and had never intended to move anywhere or rent his flat out. John was left very embarrassed, angry, out of pocket and with nowhere to live.

A fine old mess, indeed.

*as is normal, names have been changed to protect identities

Scam 2 - Upping the ante
A young couple who wish to remain nameless have sent in a story about how they had a lucky escape with a rouge landlord.

They were introduced to a private landlord through a lettings agent who 'had a friend' with a property to rent. The scam was not being run through the agent, and we understand that the agent concerned is no longer in the same line of employment.

The couple met the landlord at the property. He was a well spoken city type who was obviously not short of money. He seemed genuine enough. He was friendly and chatty and quite open about what he did and how to get hold of him, providing home, work and mobile numbers as well as a home address and the address of one of his girlfriend.

Without a formal contract being signed ("No we're having that drawn up at the moment…"), the bond money and up front rent was handed over. As with the first scam, a handwritten receipt was issued.

During the meeting, a second 'couple' arrived and asked to have a look at the place. When the couple tried to phone the landlord the next day, he was unavailable and did not return any phone calls, despite assurances that he would be available to hand over the keys and sign the contract.

The couple finally got in touch with the landlord the day before the cheques were due to clear at the bank, and were now in a state of panic. The landlord was claiming that the second couple had offered them 10% more money and this price had to be matched for them to be able to move in. Immediately the couple refused and demanded the holding deposit back. At first the landlord refused, until he was made aware of some very violent friends of the couple, who could easily be told where the property was and how to track down the landlord. this seemed to sway his decision.

While this course of action is definitely not recommended, on this occasion it worked. The landlord was either trying to pull a fast one, perhaps for the first time, or were simply holding out for more money from the higher offer. Either way, the cheques never cleared (thanks only to the bank in question processing them more slowly than many mainstream banks) and the deposit ended up being returned. The couple got away having learned a lesson and without losing anything other than time and a little bit of sleep.

Two words can sum up how to approach your initial dealings with a prospective landlord:


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