How online property scam targets Norwich tenants
- Credit: Archant
This newspaper can today expose an online property scam targeting tenants looking to rent rooms in the city.
A bogus landlord has been attempting to trick people into handing over £100 to secure viewings for a Riverside property on Wherry Road.
But once the money is transferred to their account, the landlord blocks all calls to his phone and the money is never returned.
He has been operating on the flatshare website SpareRoom.com under the fake name 'Toni-Anne Lacey' and has already stolen money from one user.
We have since been in regular contact with the individual behind the scam by phone call and text message while posing as an interested tenant.
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And all of the information we have collected, including what we believe to be his real identity, has been passed on to Norfolk police.
Solomon Muhumuza fell victim to the scam after becoming desperate to find quality accommodation in the city ahead of starting a new job.
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He was asked to transfer funds as a 'deposit' in order to see the property, under the assurance it would be returned after the viewing.
The 30-year-old paid the £100 bank transfer, but on the day of the arranged viewing, the fake landlord never turned up.
'I told him I would be coming to the city on Wednesday and I waited all afternoon,' he said. 'But no one called.
'The following morning I received an email from SpareRoom.com to say if I had been in contact with Toni-Anne Lacey, not to give any money away.
'I was really annoyed and I called SpareRoom to tell them I had sent the money, but they tried to pass responsibility as it had not gone through them.'
Mr Muhumuza was instead told to contact the police and the national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, ActionFraud.
The email from SpareRoom.com informed users that the advert was believed to be a scam, and that it had been removed from the website.
Matt Hutchinson, director at the flat sharing website, said moderators submitted an information report to ActionFraud following the incident.
He added: 'We took the advert down after an email report from a SpareRoom user saying they'd been asked for a £100 deposit before viewing the property. Our site moderators had a look into this claim and agreed the ad looked suspicious so we removed it.'
What happened when we confronted bogus landlord
We kept in regular contact with the fake landlord while pretending to be a tenant, writes reporter Luke Powell.
The advertised property was for a one-bedroom, fully-furnished apartment, located on Wherry Road – all for £500 a month.
We went to the address and found that while it was empty, it was managed by Norwich Residential Management Ltd and not the person pretending to market it on SpareRoom.com.
The company put us in touch with the real landlord, who had no idea the property was being marketed.
Over the following days we kept in regular contact with the fake landlord.
He said his name was 'John' and he insisted we transferred the money online.
We attempted to meet him in person, but he said it was not worth his time.
We eventually confronted him, using what we believed to be his real name, but he denied ever speaking to us.
'I am telling you I know nothing about it,' he said. When we told him we had a record of previous conversations, he said: 'You must have your wires crossed.'
What SpareRoom said
In an email sent to all users who contacted the bogus landlord, SpareRoom's site moderation team said: 'We have been notified that there is an advert on the site posted by someone with the name 'Toni-Anne Lacey' which is strongly suspected to be a hoax/scam.
'According to our records you have been in contact with Toni-Anne Lacey regarding his/her listing.
'For your own safety, we advise that you do NOT respond to this person if they get in touch. If they do contact you, we advise that you do not reply to their email and instead forward their correspondence over to us.
'Please note – if you have given this advertiser your email address or telephone number, they may attempt to contact you with other offers using an unrelated email address from outside SpareRoom. If you do receive any email offers like this, please do not reply and forward them to us instead.
'We advise that you are particularly wary of adverts that offer something sounding too good to be true or where there is any mention of either paying before you view the room or making any Western Union or MoneyGram payment (even if this is supposedly to yourself).
'If it sounds too good to be true it generally is and we advise you bear this in mind when viewing adverts in the future.'
Advice for tenants
Do not pay the advertiser any money until your tenancy with them has been agreed and signed
If an advert seems cheap for the area, then it probably is too good to be true
Ask which tenancy deposit scheme the landlord will use before you hand over a deposit – and get a receipt for the deposit you pay
Take any photos of damage to the property when you move in
Check the inventory of furniture and items in the property when you move in
Read the tenancy agreement before signing anything
When viewing rooms or flats, let someone else know where you are going