Eason Lee, 22, and a friend lost more than $13,000 in a traumatic incident involving a clever rental scam in London. When converted, this comes to almost Rs 13 lakh in India. This worrying instance highlights the growing issue of rental fraud in the UK, where reported cases increased by 23% between 2021 and 2022, per Action Fraud data.
Lee was in a strong rental market in London- and was competing with other renters. Unaware that it was a trap, he stumbled onto an ad for a two-bedroom property in Stratford, east London, on OpenRent.
Under the guise of a legitimate agency, the scammers compiled a list of properties for them to check. The victim had used Booking.com to reserve the flat they desired, leaving Lee and the others unsuspecting.
After reviewing the property, Lee and his friend were given what appeared to be a genuine contract and invoice. They even double-checked the Land Registry for the landlord’s information. According to a BBC story, the scammers cleverly used the real name of the property owner and the registration number of a legitimate real estate firm to deceive them.
Unsettling Email Triggers Concerns: Red Flags with Open Rent
Lee and his friend were forced to pay six months’ worth of rent up front and a deposit equivalent to five weeks’ worth of rent since they lacked guarantors. But not long after transferring the funds, they received an alarming email from OpenRent that triggered red flags and sent them into a panic.
They made numerous attempts to contact the agent but were fruitless and no one appeared to be providing them the keys to the property. During this unpleasant time, Lee ran up other victims who had also fallen victim to similar schemes.
Lee quickly reported the scam after recognizing the severity of the situation to their bank, OpenRent, and then to Action Fraud, a company responsible for handling reports of fraud and cybercrime. In response, Action Fraud informed Lee that their case would go through a comprehensive 28-day review and might then be transferred to the Metropolitan Police for a thorough investigation.
Users should exercise particular caution because there are many different types of scams on the rise in several different countries. It is always preferable to complete the required legal paperwork before making any payment. Indian tourists are additionally advised to exercise caution when visiting abroad because scammers would find it easier to prey on individuals who are unfamiliar with the local culture and have no knowledge of how to get started renting out homes. However, the same scams could happen in India.