Almost €1m lost to rental scams as students warned to be wary

More than 500 allegations reported to gardaí since 2019

Students have been warned to be wary of rental scams as new figures reveal renters have lost almost €1 million to fraudsters in recent years.

Between February 2019 and May 2021, 503 alleged rental scams were reported to the Garda. About half of these incidents occurred in the Dublin region and the majority of victims are young people, the Garda said.

Criminals engaging in the fraud have stolen more than €900,000 since February 2019. Victims are typically asked to hand over large deposits or upfront rent, often through largely untraceable means such as PayPal or cryptocurrency.

Forty two per cent of victims were under the age of 25 while 72 per cent were under 35.

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Reports of rental scams have declined in the last 18 months, likely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of third-level institutions.

However, gardaí believe such scams are likely to increase in the near future as new students search for accommodation ahead of the academic year.

The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) has advised renters to only use recognised letting agencies or to deal with people they trust.

Det Supt Mick Cryan warned that websites can be cloned and that renters should check the URL before proceedings to ensure it is genuine. They should also take note of the privacy and refund details on the site.

Renters should also be wary of properties advertised on social media or of people who only communicate via WhatsApp or other messaging services. Fraudsters often decline to show students the property and may cite Covid concerns as the reason.

“You should push for direct answers and if responses are vague, disengage immediately,” Det Supt Cryan said.

Unsolicited offers of accommodation or offers from a person who appears to be based in another country are also red flags, particularly if the premises is advertised with a sense of urgency or as a “one-time offer”.

When paying for a premises, only trusted money transfer systems such as credit cards should be used. “Never transfer money direct, pay cash, pay into cryptocurrency wallets,” the Garda said.

Websites which ask for money to be sent to a random PayPal address should raise concerns as should sites which ask for money through Western Union, iTunes giftcards or through cryptocurrency.

“The majority of the time, those methods are done to avoid scrutiny and ensure that a transaction can’t be reversed,” Det Supt Cryan said.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times