Looking for a place to live in Dublin is challenging at the best of times but for Havva, a PhD student, having a newborn baby and trying to find accommodation in the city from overseas made it even more difficult.
“We were looking for a place to rent and, as you know, the process is so desperate,” her mail begins.
She says she had responded to “thousands” of ads and finally received a positive-sounding response from a leasing company based in the UK. “We were so tired and desperate. We thought we could miss this house and tried to arrange everything quickly. We were in Turkey and rented the apartment online,” she writes.
She paid a deposit and one month’s rent, amounting to €3,860. “It was an online payment like doing online shopping,” she says.
Havva, her three-month-old baby and her husband arrived in Dublin on a Tuesday night. It quickly became apparent that there was no apartment and that the family had been victims of an elaborate rental scam. But there was worse to come.
“When I checked my bank account, I realised that the same company took €5,490 from my bank account without my authorisation. It was almost all of my savings and I didn’t get a notification from the bank. I immediately called Bank of Ireland [and] was told I subscribed to this company and that this is not a fraud and they cannot do anything.”
After a long explanation, she had to “open disputes for the transactions. Yes, we were scammed and the first transaction is our fault, I do accept that. However, the second transaction happened without my authorisation, and I didn’t get any notification from the bank,” she writes.
“Imagine that you did your shopping online, for example, you bought something from [a shop], and you used your debit card as usual. After this shopping, you realised that [the shop] took much more money from your account. In this situation you are the victim, and your bank needs to solve the issue with [the shop]. Please correct me if you think I am wrong.”
The couple also went to the gardaí and were advised to get in touch with Residential Tenancies Board.”
At the time of writing, she says, the website of the scam company was still active and showing flats around Dublin, although when Pricewatch checked it had been shut down.
We are very familiar with rental accommodation scams that take advantage of the current housing crisis and trick people into paying rent for properties that doesn’t exist or are not actually available to rent.
And we know, they are more common at this time of year when thousands of students are looking for homes.
In some cases, fraudsters say they’re out of the country and unable to meet but will ask for money up front or request a deposit to hold the property. We have also highlighted cases when criminals have rented properties on accommodation platforms and shown them to prospective tenants before taking deposits and disappearing.
We contacted Bank of Ireland to see if there was anything it could do for this couple.
It sent us a statement in which it offered some advice to stop people being conned. It said people should use only established letting agencies and be extra vigilant if the rental property is found online and not through an established letting agency.
People should always meet the landlord in the accommodation and ask for identification from the landlord or letting agent such as a driving licence.
It is also important to ensure keys work before paying any deposit. Finally, if something sounds too good to be true it probably is.
As to the specifics of the case, we have good news.
A Bank of Ireland spokeswoman said the bank could confirm that the customer in this case has been refunded for both transactions.
“When paying with a debit card or credit card there are policies in place to protect customers in a number of circumstances, including suspected fraud. Customers can request a chargeback on their credit card or debit card within 120 days of a transaction they are disputing, under the card companies’ chargeback scheme,” she said.
This policy applies in certain scenarios, including goods not received, services or merchandise not as described, subscriptions or continuous authority transactions that have been cancelled but are still being charged to a card, a promised refund that was not processed after 30 days or an unrecognised transaction.
“As a card was used for these transactions, Bank of Ireland logged a refund request – or ‘disputed transaction’ – on the customer’s behalf with the card company using the chargeback scheme, treating the transaction as a ‘goods not received’ dispute. However, so that the funds could be returned to the customer as quickly as possible, Bank of Ireland arranged a refund for both transactions in advance of the card scheme completing the chargeback process. The bank also reported the website as fake.”