Over €20,000 in deposits was paid to a scammer who pretended to be the landlord of a Dublin property he was about to vacate.
The incident was highlighted by gardaí as one of many kinds of fraud in the rental market as they advised students to be careful when hunting for accommodation in the coming weeks.
Sergeant Amanda Flood of the Garda Crime Prevention National Centre of Excellence said the man was coming to the end of his lease and had advertised the property for rent.
“He showed a number of people around the accommodation over a couple of days,” she said.
The unsuspecting viewers paid over big sums of money as deposits, believing the man was the landlord.
“When they came back to move in, he had left and someone else had already moved in,” said Sgt Flood.
Although she could not say how many people had been tricked, or what stage the Garda investigation was at, she said the amount of money lost was upwards of €20,000.
The case did not relate specifically to students but it was outlined as part of an awareness campaign by gardaí ahead of the busy few weeks when demand for student accommodation rises dramatically.
Gardaí said there is a corresponding spike each year in rental scams, as more than 40,000 people are offered college places days after the Leaving Certificate results, which will be issued next Wednesday.
The other main scams are fraudsters seeking deposits from victims without meeting them or showing them the property, and renters thinking everything is fine until they discover the keys they were given do not work.
“One thing to keep in mind is that, if the rent is too good to be true, then be very careful,” said Sgt Flood.
She referred to a woman in Galway who told gardaí she had nearly fallen victim to a scam until she checked the rent on a property she was about to pay a deposit for near a third-level college.
When she compared it to the local average for the area in the Private Residential Tenancies Board rent index, she quickly realised something was wrong and reported the details to gardaí.
Sgt Flood said the main message is that forewarned is forearmed on prospective crimes such as these. Contracts should be signed before any deposit is paid, and traceable methods such as cheques or bank drafts should always be used instead of cash, gardaí said.
Among the key tips to all those in the market to rent a room, apartment, or house are to ideally only deal with established rental agencies, always meet the prospective landlord in the accommodation itself, and to ask for photograph ID of the landlord or letting agent.
Union of Students in Ireland president Michael Kerrigan said anyone worried that they are being led into a scam should alert gardaí or their local students’ union right away.
“It’s a shame that people are taking advantage of students like this,” he said. “They are handing over up to two months’ rent as a deposit and this kind of money being stolen can have a serious impact on a student’s ability to afford college for the coming year.”
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