#LifeSchool: How NOT to Fall for Scams Online

Today’s #LifeSchool is coming from recent experience and shows how online, if something is too good to be true, it usually is, and desperation to get something can lead to costly mistakes.

I start by setting the scene and updating a bit on what us lot have been up to, as it’s been a while since I posted (being that I seem to be resident more now on my radio show and instagram).

We took the decision a little while ago to relocate to the coast. Not a decision we took lightly, as I bloody hate moving with a passion, but we agreed at the end of last year that we no longer feel the town fits us as a family, what with rents raising again by £200 in a year to £1350 a month for a house on our street, and being unhappy in general with the quality of life in the borough. We’ve not been given our marching orders, in fact, we love our current Landlord (unusual for us) but we have started looking to the Dorset area at our own pace.

As a result, we have posted online as we’ve had success finding a house this way before.

A while back, I posted on Gumtree, which I find is the best resource as you can advertise on their Wanted Property section for free. Its also where I look most days for any properties that have come up from Private Landlords, as, unlike RightMove and Zoopla, ads are instantly view-able.

My ad was simple, just asking for a 2 or 3 bed unfurnished house, with a good sized garden, close to local amenities, as well as saying we are relocating in part due to Littlest being far healthier in clean country coastal air than in the built up area we are in now. We also, hoping to reel in a Private individual, said we will take on a house needing a little cosmetic improvement, as we find sometimes this lowers your deposit.

We had a few responses, unfortunately none which were suitable, but as we have no notice period to mean we have to rush into anything, we didn’t mind.

I did, however, receive a text in March, which asked me to email a Miss Miller about a property she was sure would meet our requirements.

Not feeling anything was amiss, and having had other texts, I emailed on the address the provided- jessmiller867@gmail.com, and received an email back straight away;

miss miller

All sounds fine, right?

I didn’t even question it. The photos she sent were of an utterly beautifully furnished home, which most people would jump at at that price. The only reason I never continued with the conversation, bar to email back once to decline, was because the property offered to me was not in Dorset, but in Wales.

I didn’t give it a second thought until yesterday, when another text came through-

textmrsester

Now, I’ll admit, I was a little questioning of the wording, but not everyone who rents houses has perfect English, and that doesn’t rule them out as a Landlord. Especially not since the name of the email address was clearly Spanish. I did feel the text was familiar but I emailed straight away. This is the reply I got;

mrsesteremail1

Look familiar?

I couldn’t help noticing that, although some of the details had been changed, and it was from a different email address, the two emails were ridiculously similar. I also looked up the address given for the property and the photos of the house she sent me look nothing like the photos you can find online when the small estate she refers to was built. It is also an estate of very few houses but mostly modern flats, none of which are three bedroom. The photos sent were very similar- a beautiful home with modern furniture but a period home with big sash windows- not a modern home on a modern estate.

I clocked straight away and alerted Gumtree via Twitter. They are now investigating and will be sending the details to the relevant body.

It is a known scam on Gumtree and other similar sites. These scammers prey on people’s desperate need in some cases to find a property at a time when it is hard as hell for many to find an affordable home in an area they want to live in. By tapping into this need, they can guarantee that a few people will fall for their scam and send the required £500 by transfer- which they will never see again.

I decided to humor “Mrs Ester” after she text me (the cheeky bugger whoever she/he is) asking why I had yet to respond. And lo and behold, her “solicitors” bank details are now in my inbox and that of Gumtree- I wont post them here in case this is an account they are scamming.

To make matters worse, the scammer asked me for a range of personal details for their “solicitors credit and reference checks”.

This is easy to fall for as it’s a practice used by 99% of genuine agents and owners, and I’ve had many performed in the past which I’ve had to pay anything between £50 and £120 for. So to be offered one for free would definitely entice people who have a tight budget.

I, obviously sensing a scam, used one of my own- using a fake address generator and giving a fake approximation of my name. To which Mrs Ester asked me to send her two passport photos of myself for “identification purposes”. No doubt if I had of done, my identification would have been used for further frauds.

So, this Life School is asking you all, however desperate you are, always always query messages if you are advertising in the same way.

If the deposit is tiny on a home filled with designer furniture, and they don’t ask for fees, they probably aren’t being nice and trying to get you homed, they are very likely to be conning you. In the case of homes in Dorset, even a deposit on an unfurnished home is in the region of £1,300+, and considering how much both “Jess Miller” and “Mrs Ester” wanted someone to assure them they’d look after their “facilities”, asking for such a tiny deposit is questionable too.

Check the persons credentials, if they claim to be from an agency, find the agency online. If it’s a sophisticated scam, and the agents exists, ring them and ask if they have someone in their employ with that name. If not, its likely to be a scam.

Look up the address they claim to have a home in, like I did. Does the type of home match the description or images?

Never, ever agree to a bank transfer, I’ve never known a company to ask for this to be given. Most will allow you to pay cash if you are suspicious- if they wont let you, they are probably dodgy.

And if they speak like one of those “Princess Conseula of Guadalope who has cash monies for you to hold for £1,000000000 in return for help oh gracious one” they are doubtless a scamming bastard.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t find a decent property via these sites- I have done in the past and countless others probably have too. If you do sense a scam, it’s always worth emailing or tweeting at the site so they can remove these fraudsters.

However small amount of time you have to find a new home, however much the property sounds amazing, always exercise caution.

And don’t become another victim of these despicable scams.

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#LifeSchool: All You Need to Know About Renting

I like helping you guys out, and following from my usual tongue in cheek #BlogSchool series, I thought I’d bring you #LifeSchool too.

My intention with #LifeSchool is to give my hard come by advice from experience of dealing with the type of crap they don’t teach you in school. Yes, we get told about teen pregnancy, drugs and the like, but how many times were you taught about your rights when renting, or who to complain to about Appeals or School issues, or crap Doctors?

Exactly.

As I am a moaning bastard, who hates being ripped off or having my nearest and dearest treated like rubbish, I have long since gained a few tips and tricks on dealing with the stuff liable to make you turn grey.

Starting off today with Renting.

I’ve rented since I was 17, and have had a cavalcade of every type of Landlord and home in different areas you can find. The good, bad and money grabbing fuckwit, if you will.

If you know your rights though, you will, like me, become every dodgy Agent or Landlords worst nightmare.

MOVING IN

Moving in is stressful enough- there’s the packing, the unpacking, the breaking your back moving thousands of sodding vinyl when you could just have a sodding iPod (oh, wait, that’s just our house), but there are things to remember straight away.

Even before you pick up the keys, make sure you get a full and frank run down of all fees and expenses you are expected to fork out upfront. So, if your Landlord or Agent asks for £1,200 as a deposit, ask if there are any non refundable fees such as a key fee, a holding fee, or a credit check fee. Yes, all of these can and will possibly apply, as sadly no rules are in place to stop Agents or Landlords charging whatever they like. There is nothing worse than finding a home you love, only to find out that there is an extra £800-£1000+ to pay which you will never get back.

Be aware of the state of the property too. If possible, before you move even a rug in, go around your new home, with a trusty camera or phone, and take pictures of all the fixtures and fittings which aren’t your own. Damp patch on the wall? Log it. Marks on the carpet or lino? Write it down and take photos.

Some Agents will already have taken an Inventory, which they will send you a copy of to sign and agree, but always, always read everything before you sign. Add in any notes of items or breakages you can find, however minor. In our old house, we were told the walls in one bedroom were green and the carpet, cooker and fridge freezer were all as new, but actually the walls were cream and the other bits far from new.

It may seem petty, but at some point you will need to leave, and again, that free reign to charge what they like comes into play again.

If you  have wrecked a carpet, then make inquiries on how much like for like carpet will cost, get a quote and receipt. Think that will never happen? In one home in Maidenhead, we were told to remove a carpet by the owner, and did so, varnishing the floor. All fine right? NOPE.

On moving out, they wanted to take our entire deposit to replace the carpet. We had nothing in writing saying we could remove it and our Landlord had sudden amnesia. We visited our local carpet fitters, found the same very cheap carpet and got a quote, minus a percentage due to “Fair Wear and Tear” We only had to pay a tiny amount as we could prove the amount they wanted to scam us for was by far too much.

THE BEST ADVICE FOR ALL THINGS RENTING OR OTHERWISE

That’s another thing to always remember, no matter who you are dealing with- GET IT IN WRITING.

Its so easy to contact most people we deal with these days via email. You can then have a file system and drop all emails in it, however minor the issue.

This helped when we moved from our last property two weeks back. We had a dispute over our deposit and, as it was in a DPS (Deposit Protection Service- a government initiative to stop unscrupulous Landlords from holding your deposit themselves and holding it to ransom), we were facing months of arguments before it was released- something we couldn’t stand for as we had to hand our deposit to our new Agent. Now, Landlords know this, so they will hope you cave rather than lose a home you’ve found.

Hell no.

Our (stupid white and not new on moving in) upstairs carpet was bollocked. Not by us. We paid money to clean it, but, when we first moved in, dodgy workmen fixed our roof and dust and dirt of some 30 year vintage was able to get indoors with gay abandon. Luckily, I still had my email where I told the Agents this, and could quote this to them along with their Tenancy. Funnily enough, within 24 hours they gave the full deposit back and shelved their £90 check out fee too!

IF YOU SIGNED IT, MAKE SURE YOU READ IT FIRST

That’s another biggie which may seem dull and annoying but is worth it in the long run- make yourself aware of the major points of your Tenancy.

Has it got a break clause? These are handy for you if you hate your new home and want to move as it gives you the right to give two months notice within a Tenancy. However, as just happened to us, even if you paid £90 to resign a new Tenancy and this doesn’t run out until the end of May, if your Landlord decides, as with ours, to sell up all his properties, he can give you the same two months regardless.

Look for clauses on extra fees- like the resign fee, or maintenance fees. Got a problem that needs fixing? Many tenancies include a fair fixing period which, should your problem not be sorted in this time frame can save you money (as with the three months we waited for a new door, which gave me a £30 reduction on the aforementioned resign fee). You can also withhold rent, but this will not be popular, and its worth knowing that if a Landlord can prove you are in debt with rent, they can have your removal from their home happen in 14 days rather than taking months.

MASSIVE COCK UPS AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM

What can you do if things go very wrong?

Got a house that’s really unsafe? Then if you’ve spoken to the Landlord or Agent (over email, of course), and they still wont do anything, you can go to your local Environmental Health team at the local council. They can, and will, for free, inspect a property and can if need be take a Landlord to court and give out fines if they don’t do work to make a home safe. This costs you nothing, but bear in mind the Landlord will possibly not be best pleased and could give you notice.

HOMELESSNESS DOESN’T HAVE TO HAPPEN IF YOU’RE SMART

If you are facing homelessness, contact your local council straight away with any paperwork you have, including your eviction notice. If you have been good tenants and don’r have rent arrears, then they will give you advice, and can help with the cost of a deposit to secure a new home.

That’s a big thing to remember- keep up with rent and get receipts to prove you’ve paid. If you act responsibly, you will get more help than those who don’t pay up or wreck a home- if this is the case you will be classed as “Intentionally Homeless” and will not even be given Temporary Housing in a B&B, let alone allowed to join a Housing List.

Don’t let me worry you! Not every Agent or Landlord is a scam artist, but if things do go wrong, be polite, quote law and your rights, and you should do fine.

WHERE TO GO FOR ADVICE

If you do get stuck though, you can always contact agencies such as The Citizens Advice Bureau, the DPS Service, or Shelter- not to mention your local Housing team- for free, impartial and up to date advice.

Got a question for #LifeSchool? Get in touch, if it’s not something I’ve come up against, I will know someone who has and am always happy to learn new ways to not get scammed so will find out for you!

Next on #LifeSchool, dealing with Appeals and School related issues. How not to get your little darling turfed out of a place.