Rental accommodation scams
A rental accommodation scam tries to con you out of your money by pretending to offer you a property or room to rent. Often the person advertising the property doesn’t have the right to rent it out and, sometimes, the property may not even exist.
What to look out for
If the landlord cannot show you the rental accommodation in person, it’s a major red flag. They may request a deposit from you and one month’s rent to secure the room before any mention of a lease. You may even be sent a false contract to sign or fake keys to make it more convincing.
If the rent seems too good to be true, then chances are it’s not genuine. Scammers will often advertise a rental property at a lower price than normal to draw in potential victims. Be wary too if the rental property is only advertised through social media advertisements.
Did you know?
Landlords are required to register their tenancies annually with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB). Check the RTB Register to make sure the rental property you’re looking at is registered.
Another warning sign is being offered a rental without any questions being asked of you, legitimate landlords will want to verify references before considering renting to you.
It is common practice for scammers to advertise the same bogus properties in multiple scam attempts, often using similar names and cover stories. They are also likely to contact you only through email, text or social media messaging. Ask for a phone number to talk to a real person. It’s easier to be misled through email or messaging apps.
There are certain actions you can take to stay safe during your rental search.
1. Make sure you research the advertised property, use online maps to verify it exists, or go and see it in person.
2. Research the rent prices for similar prices in that area.
3. View the property yourself in person before handing over any deposit or rent.
4. Try out all the locks yourself with the keys you receive.
5. Ask the landlord for a written lease or rent book before paying any money.
6. Pay only by card or bank transfer, you may be able to get money back if something goes wrong.
7. Get a proper receipt in writing for any payment you make.
8. Keep all contact details for the landlord, agent or advertiser.
9. Hold on to copies of any email/phone messages between you and the landlord/agent.
Holiday accommodation, particularly abroad, is an easy target for rental scammers. It can be harder to spot this type of rental scam as the rental address is typically in a different country. This means you won’t have the option to view the property yourself in person beforehand.
How a holiday rental scam works
A person spots a property they are interested in on a rental platform or online, and gets in contact about potentially renting the property. The scammer will tell them that it’s in high demand and they need to send a deposit quickly to secure it. The scammer will often ask for money to be paid outside of the booking website’s platform. Once payment goes through, the supposed landlord will disappear with the money and end all communication.
Kate and Susan decided to go on a trip to Barcelona. They booked cheap flights, but were having difficulty finding affordable accommodation. One of them spotted a small apartment advertised on social media close to the city centre and within their budget. The girls contacted the owner who asked them to send a deposit immediately to secure it, explaining demand was huge. Contact was made initially through social media and then by email. The girls received a written agreement by email and instructions to collect a key from a safe box. When they flew to Barcelona and arrived at the location, the keys in the safe box did not work. There were people already occupying the address and the alleged owner was no longer answering their calls. The two friends had been scammed.
Use a secure booking site
Trusted booking websites have strong security measures in place. All communications and payments are made safely through their websites and usually have protections in place to avoid people being scammed on their platform.
Many rental scammers however use the secure reputation of these booking sites to scam people. They do this by sending people links on the legitimate platform to a separate site to get payment or confirm a booking. This separate site may be a clone of the legitimate site and any payments you like will not be protected.
When booking your holiday accommodation, make sure to pay using only the platform’s secure website. Never pay by bank transfer, cryptocurrency or PayPal. You should never click on a link to an external site for payment and only pay directly on the platform.
If you get scammed
Contact your bank or credit card company immediately if you have transferred money online or given your bank details to someone. Your bank can cancel your cards and secure your account. You may be able to get the transaction reversed through a chargeback from your card provider.
If you spot a fake listing on a property or booking website, contact the site immediately so it can be taken down. Report the incident to your local Garda station. Doing this may stop a scammer altogether and save other people from becoming victims.
Last updated on 21 November 2023