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Is Facebook Marketplace safe for finding your next rental property?

fraud Scammers using Facebook Marketplace and other platforms to prey on renters
Many people have turned to Facebook Marketplace to find properties - mostly to widen their search (given the current shortage in rental property). Rent is more often than not listed lower on Facebook's Marketplace (and similar platforms) compared to those on the main portals. Additionally, many of those who list these properties don't carry out background checks and users can chat directly with the agents, owners or landlords which speeds up negotiations.

The problem with Facebook however, is it is littered with scammers who are using the marketplace to target unsuspecting, often desperate users into parting with money for rental property they do not own. They basically pretend to be the property owner, landlord or letting agent. They then create a false marketplace listing using images they find on AirBnB, the portals or agent websites. If these arn't available they take the images themselves, with some going so far as hiring professional photographers. 

The ads on Facebook and other platforms such as Gumtree and SpareRoom (which are also being used by scammers) look very professional because most of the time they are exact replicas of legitimate ads, the only difference being the contact details. As mentioned earlier, the fraudsters are playing on the current housing shortage problem to try and con would-be tenants out of hundreds of pounds at a time. It is a very lucrative operation!

Once the stage is set, they lure potential tenants in via the listings. A typical method the scammers use is to ask people to contact them via WhatsApp to enquire about the properties. But when asking to view the property, the scammers insist cash must be handed over first, for what they claim is a 'refundable deposit'. Many renters oblige for fear of losing their dream property. More often though, its because it is the only one they can afford at that time and they want to secure the deal. 

Another method they apparently use to look more genuine is to book an AirBnB property for a set duration, then take viewings (as many as possible in the timeframe they have to swindle as many people as possible). When showing them around the property they use pressure tactics mentioned above to get them to secure the rental by making a 'refundable' payment which is on average around £500.

The other thing they do is ask people to complete an application form which collects a lot of personal information - this opens up applicants to other threats including identify theft and their email and other contact details being sold onto the lucrative data black market. Given it is Facebook too, there is a lot of additional content and information the scammers can find out about the person from their profile pages including a photo of them. 

Recently a spokesperson for Meta said: "We don't want fraudulent or inauthentic behaviour on our platforms and we're sorry people are being misled in this way. "We continue to invest in people and technology to remove this type of activity from our platforms, and we urge people to report any suspicious listings, accounts or posts to us and the police, so that we can take action. "We've also donated £3 million to Citizens Advice to deliver a UK Scam Action Programme which raises awareness of online scams and helps victims." However, victims say reporting is a waste of time as they don't get a response from Facebook and the listings continue to remain active.

Facebook and other platforms need to do more to tackle this, but until that happens, the public need to educate themselves as much as possible on the potential risks and what to look out for. To follow are some useful tips to get you started: 

  1. Before you respond to an ad, do your research. Check Companies House if they are a business. Also do an internet search to see if they have a legitimate website. Compare the contact details - never go through a link they provided in the marketplace ad as they may have gone as far as replicating the agent's website too!
  2. Check if the property is on any kind of approved accommodation list – students should go to their student union or accommodation office to see if they have an approved housing list. If you are an oversees student or coming to the UK to work, get help from the university (or employer) you are coming to, or get a friend, contact or relative to check the property exists and is available.
  3. Check for any accreditations or memberships such as National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS), Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA). 
  4. Check for any reviews on sites like Trustpilot and ask around your communities on Facebook and other platforms.
  5. Do not pay any money until you or a reliable contact has visited the property with an agent or the landlord and verified it is legitimately offered for rent. Meet them in person and ask questions about the property. Also ask for photo ID and vehicle registration number in advance to deter scammers from targeting you. Ask to see their ID again when you meet to cross-check.
  6. If they ask for payment in cash or through platforms like PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, Western Union or MoneyGram, don't trust them. Scammers disappear once they have taken your money. Victims that have lost money this way rarely ever get it back.
  7. Fraudsters often use throwaway accounts which have been recently created or hacked into. You cannot trust them to use their real identity. These accounts disappear once they have been reported or blocked and they simply create new ones to continue their operations.
  8. Ask for copies of tenancy agreements and any safety certificates such as gas, electricity or HMO licence.
  9. Scammers chat directly with unsuspecting tenants through WhatsApp, Messenger, by text, or email to build trust. They will say anything to trick you into sending them money - be vigilant!
  10. Inspect the property fully before signing any contracts or handing over any money. 


Finally, if you have been a victim of fraud or cyber crime, report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040.



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Comments 5

Guest - Sarah on Sunday, 19 February 2023 09:50

My son's friend was scammed in this way. He lost nearly £2000 and has a small family and a low paid job. What are the government and the Police actually doing about this? I have to move too now as the landlord has put up the rent and bills so I can't afford to live here anymore. The counil arn't interested. Nobody is. I am so lost. I am working but I don't earn enough to support myself anymore. Life doesn't feel worth living

My son's friend was scammed in this way. He lost nearly £2000 and has a small family and a low paid job. What are the government and the Police actually doing about this? I have to move too now as the landlord has put up the rent and bills so I can't afford to live here anymore. The counil arn't interested. Nobody is. I am so lost. I am working but I don't earn enough to support myself anymore. Life doesn't feel worth living
Guest - Jamie on Sunday, 19 February 2023 10:33

We have been scammed so many times trusting people. They are really friendly on email and in whatsapp so it is easy to get sucked in. I realised they knew more bout us as the details were all on facebook. we learned the hardway and lost thousands we couldnt afford in the process

We have been scammed so many times trusting people. They are really friendly on email and in whatsapp so it is easy to get sucked in. I realised they knew more bout us as the details were all on facebook. we learned the hardway and lost thousands we couldnt afford in the process
Guest - Asha on Sunday, 19 February 2023 12:10

Same here. My nephew fell for this. He and his girlfriend have a 2 year old and they even did a viewing which is why they didn't even question it. They took all their money. They were totally devesatated as had been saving for this

Same here. My nephew fell for this. He and his girlfriend have a 2 year old and they even did a viewing which is why they didn't even question it. They took all their money. They were totally devesatated as had been saving for this
Guest - Rick e.london on Monday, 10 April 2023 19:04

Never do any kind of business related to your home on fb insta or whatsapp. If you do then accept the consequences.

Never do any kind of business related to your home on fb insta or whatsapp. If you do then accept the consequences.
Guest - Adrian on Tuesday, 12 December 2023 10:06

Got scammed on facebook. The airbnb one. My daughter went to view and paid £300 up front. They looked totally legitimate. Be warned

Got scammed on facebook. The airbnb one. My daughter went to view and paid £300 up front. They looked totally legitimate. Be warned
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Monday, 27 May 2024