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6-Year Prison Sentence for Tenant Deposit Scam

After pocketing more than £10,000 in a tenant deposit scam, a fake landlord was handed a six-year custodial sentence last week.

Landlord News by: Madalena Penny

James Bennett, a 32-year-old from London already with prior offences to fraud, conned desperate house hunters into handing over £725 in property deposits to secure their tenancy, while giving them fake tenancy agreements.

The Inner London Crown Court found Bennett guilty on 17 counts of Fraud. Tenants arriving on the arranged day to move in found that they had been scammed, leaving several homeless, despite the deposit they had paid in good faith.

The conman advertised the rooms to rent in Tooting, Brixton and Elephant & Castle, without authorisation to do so. In an attempt to give confidence in his authority as landlord, Mr. Bennett gave copies of his passport to the unknowing tenants as proof of his identity.

Unfortunately, scams like this are not uncommon. Many are attempted online through classified ads, where fraudsters offer properties at very reasonable rents and target overseas students looking for property. A tenant deposit and upfront rent are usually asked by the fake landlord to be sent via Western Union.

With the demand for residential accommodation out-stripping the available housing stock, fraud of this kind is something tenants need to be aware of.

Joseph Hetherington, partner at ‘Penny Joseph Lettings’ advised tenants to be extra vigilant when handing over deposits on a property.
“If you see an ad for a property that seems very cheap, be wary. If possible, all payments should be paid via bank-to-bank. You should never hand over any money, whether a tenant deposit, or a holding deposit without a proper signed receipt. Also ensure that the holding deposit is deductible against the first month’s rent.”

TIPS TO AVOID BEING SCAMMED

  • Don’t send money by Wire Transfer; ie; Western Union;
  • Never meet and hand over cash to a stranger – no matter how much you want the property;
  • Ask for proof of property ownership. If you are renting through a letting agent, they should have proof from the landlord;
  • If property is way below average rental value for the area, ask for proof via a BTL mortgage certificate from their lender. Many scams rely on a high turnover of tenant enquiries, by advertising a property honeypot – or rather a fabulous property at an unbelievable cheap rent.

Remember: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

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