Third-level students, many of whom are already beginning the search for places to stay when colleges get back into life in September, have been warned to be wary of accommodation scams.
Banks, the Garda and the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) have advised students and parents to be on the alert, following cases where victims were conned into paying deposits for properties that do not exist, or were already rented.
The annual hunt for rental accommodation is due to get under way in earnest in a few weeks after the release of next month’s Leaving Cert results.
Brian Hayes, chief executive of Banking & Payments Federation Ireland, said that while many young adults would be excited at the prospect of going to college for the first time, they need to take time to research accommodation options before committing to any property.
“Know the warning signs, understand the risks and do your homework,” he said. “Equally, for parents and friends, we ask them to play their part in assisting young people to ensure no costly mistakes are made.”
Mr Hayes said some of the most common scams involved a fraudster renting a holiday or short-let themselves, which they go on to advertise for rent.
These fraudsters tend to show the property to multiple potential tenants with the aim of collecting multiple deposits and then disappear with the money.
Another common scam is where a fraudster re-advertises listings of actual available rentals with their own email or phone number.
They will often refuse to show the property but may send photos or keys in exchange for payment of rent and a deposit.
“In both cases the victims only realise they’ve been scammed after the fraudster has left with their money,” Mr Hayes said.
The Banking & Payments Federation Ireland along with member banks have developed a checklist and website (fraudsmart.ie) to help potential victims avoid getting caught up in scams.
They include simple tips such as ensuring the address of the property exists; checking short-term rental sites to ensure a property is not being used by a fraudster for fake “viewings”; using legitimate well-known rental agencies where possible; and exchanging money only when you have been given a rental agreement and keys which fit the lock of the property.
Lorna Fitzpatrick, president of the USI, said it was of the utmost importance that students take caution when viewing properties to rent.
“The unfortunate truth is that people are taking advantage of students’ vulnerability when it comes to the housing crisis and accommodation shortage for students in third-level education, and profiting off their struggle to find housing,” she said.
“Always view the property in person before putting down any form of deposit, meet with your potential landlord and find out if they are registered with the RTB [Residential Tenancies Board].”