Warning over ‘increasingly common’ Facebook scam that cost couple £1,200 and their home
A warning has been issued over an increasingly common Facebook scam that cost a Devon couple £1,200 and has left them having to find a new home.
National fraud investigators are looking into the latest case and estate agents in Devon have issued a warning not to fall for the con.
Jenny Foster-Mitchell, 35, and Cheryl Foster-Mitchell, 28, spotted their perfect house to rent on a Facebook property page - and the post included pictures of every room, a full description of the property and further details on rent and bills.
Jenny said: “The house was listed at £600 per calendar month including bills. It looked perfect.
We got in touch at the end of August by commenting on the post.
“We didn’t get a reply straight away so we sent a direct message to the landlord on Facebook asking for more details.
“We got a message back giving us more details and letting us know that pets were welcome in the house – which was perfect for us.”
The landlord then asked the couple if they wanted to arrange a viewing – but explained that the keys were currently with the letting agent so she couldn’t let them into have a look around, reports plymouthherald .
However she did give them the address so that they could go and have a look at the property.
Jenny said: “She said we could go and have a look at it through the windows to see if it was what we wanted.
“We went and had a look at it and it was exactly the same as the photos.
“We were very keen to find somewhere new and we liked it so we were happy to go ahead with it.”
The next step to secure the property was a £600 deposit, the couple say.
Jenny said: “It was something we have both done previously so we did not think anything of it at the time.
“A day or so later we were asked for one month’s rent in advance, which we also felt was nothing
“We were sent a tenancy agreement which we completed and sent back. Everything seemed normal.”
It was only a few days later that things seemed to change.
Jenny, a care home administrator, said: “The landlord asked us to pay £400 for maintenance that she had carried out at the property – I think she said she had put up some blinds or something.
“I was thinking, we shouldn’t have to pay for maintenance, and this was even written into the tenancy agreement we had signed.
“But then she threatened to add the bills to the monthly rent – so we agreed.
“At this point we were getting wary, but we were so desperate to get out."
The penny started to drop, however, when the landlord asked for the couple to send the money in a different way.
Jenny said: “We had made all of the other payments through online bank transfer, but this time she wanted us to use MoneyGram.
“We did attempt to make the £400 maintenance payment but MoneyGram wouldn’t release it, thank god, until I spoke to them to confirm the details.
“Shortly after this, we decided to search for the property and came across it on RightMove. That is when it all unravelled.
“We confronted the woman and she said that she didn’t like not being trusted and then blocked us."
The couple said that they then contacted the letting agent, Martin & Co, who had listed the property on RightMove.
Martin & Co confirmed that they were advertising the property - but told them that the name of the landlord they had been dealing with did not match the name that they had.
They were also told that the house was under offer, but that the people who were currently under referencing were not themselves.
Jenny said: “It was devastating. They confirmed what we had been dreading.
“What annoys me as well is that she not only has our money, but she has our personal details, including a copy of our driving license.”
The couple were doubly concerned as they had already handed in their notice to their current landlord.
Jenny said: "Thankfully our current landlord allowed us to retract our notice.
“They have been brilliant throughout this ordeal and have really helped us.”
Chris Whitaker, director at Martin & Co, said: “In this particular instance, we were made aware by the victim of this ‘scam’ and that some of our marketing images had been extracted from our website and used without consent on Facebook by an individual purporting to be the landlord.
“We immediately recommended that the tenant contact the police to report the incident and have also sought to identify other potential options to support the victim in finding alternative accommodation.”
“Unfortunately this type of property ‘scam’ is becoming increasingly common throughout Devon.
“Our advice to all potential tenants is to be extremely cautious when it comes to passing money to unregulated agents or landlords who are able to act anonymously and with relative impunity through various internet sites and online forums.
“Tenants should instead seek to use regulated agents who are members of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) and members of a government approved Client Money Protection (CMP) scheme.
Jacqui Courtier, director at Plymouth Homes, said: “I have heard of this scam before and it is something that is growing.
“My understanding of the matter is, that a rogue person will keep an eye on the internet and locate a house that is currently empty, they can do this by scouring property sites.
“Once they have found the perfect property, they pinch the photos and description and advertise the property as if they were the landlord.
“They then arrange for the tenants to look at the property, I think in this case, Jenny and her partner looked through the windows and they decided they wanted it.
“Sadly, it is all very believable and tenants can easily be taken in."
The couple contacted Devon and Cornwall police regarding the case, who confirmed that the case had been handed to the National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC) who are in the early stages of investigation.
The NFRC have been contacted for a statement.