Jordan Feeley examines how rental fraud has become rife across the country in the midst of a living crisis and illuminates the warning signs along with the advice given by a multitude of professional sources.
On August 3rd, 2023, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) issued a statement warning students to be wary of accommodation scams, noting that the current living crisis “has created the perfect surge for a surge in rental scams.” This is also supported by An Garda Síochána who have reported a 38% increase in rental fraud schemes between 2021 and 2022, with a total of €2 million stolen in such cases since 2019.
With this, the national housing charity Threshold, the Irish Council of International Students (ICOS) and the Union of Students Ireland have launched the ‘Scamwatch Campaign’, an initiative to protect tenants by illuminating accommodation fraud warning signs. The campaign has identified three common occurrences:
• The scammer is out of the country and refuses to show the property but requests a deposit regardless.
• The scammer receives a deposit from several people at a property and disappears with the money.
• The scammer provides false keys to the renter and then disappears.
It is fundamental that one confirms the existence of the property and that it is truly available for rent. According to Laura Harmon, the Executive Director of ICOS, it is important “to view the property in person, get the agent’s ID and sign a written contract in the presence of another person.”
It is fundamental that one confirms the existence of the property and that it is truly available for rent.
Harmon also emphasised how sophisticated and manipulative such scams can be. This is illustrated in Christina Korcakova’scase when moving from Czechia to Ireland in September 2022. After searching for accommodation on websites such as daft.ie and myhome.ie, along with Facebook student groups, Korcakova told The Irish Times that she received an unsolicited email regarding a property in Stoneybatter which she believed was from an individual who “had contacted her through one of the numerous websites.”
Korcakova and Agnese, the supposed owner of the property,conversed over email and photographs of the property were exchanged. Following a negotiation period, Korcakova sent Agnese the deposit via bank. Yet, it was upon Korcakova’sarrival in Dublin that Agnese failed to respond to communication attempts. Soon after, it was revealed that the Eircode given to Korcakova was for “a non-existent address.”
As evidenced by Korcakova’s case, the possibility of becoming victim to accommodation fraud is multiplied when dialogue is orchestrated entirely online. Due to the increase demand of accommodation nationwide, many have taken to searching in groups on Facebook and WhatsApp. Whilst these platforms can be genuine, utilising them should be done with caution as properties can be posted without verification. It is therefore crucial to identify the legitimacy of the owner and the property immediately. According to the CCPC, this can be done by asking for an exact address and verifying it on Google Maps. To identify the renter, the Gardaí have recommended requesting identification, such as a driver’s licence or photo identification, and keeping a photograph of the document.
Threshold have reported that “scammers often try to pressure you into making quick decisions.” This was the case for Levi Amarilo who arrived in Dublin with his partner in March 2023. Upon moving into a studio in Rathmines and preparing for his studies, Amarilo maintained warm relations with the landlord and even sought their accommodation advice for his brother who was soon to be arriving in Dublin. The landlord thus recommended Amarilo to move into a larger property on the River Liffey which following a viewing, he soon did. However, just two days later, Amarilo and his partner awoke to twelve others moving into the same property, all of whom, along with Amarilo, fell victim to renal fraud. It is thus vital that one is attentive to their own feelings when undergoing an accommodation search. Whilst Amarilo’s case is particularly complex as the scammer formed a relationship with the renter prior to initiating the scam, if something feels uneasy or pressuring, take time to reflect before making a decision. It is the power of pressure that for scammers, can be the vital tool in securing a deposit.
According to Harmon of the ICOS, nearly one in seven international students have reported falling victim to an accommodation scam whilst in Ireland. This is due to scammers preying on the vulnerabilities of international students, such as having to search for accommodation online and being unable to physically view the property. It is therefore important that international students establish contacts prior to visiting the country, whether this be through the university itself or online student groups.
According to Harmon of the ICOS, nearly one in seven international students have reported falling victim to an accommodation scam whilst in Ireland.
John-Mark McCafferty, the Chief Executive Officer of Threshold, has emphasised that “it is key that renters take precautions such as requesting a written agreement of rental terms and conditions, and using a secure payment method – and not cash in hand.” When issuing a deposit, choosing a bank transfer instead of cash significantly increases the chances of receiving a refund in the event of a scam. Also, when a deposit is paid, a receipt should be issued and signed by both the renter and the landlord. This can simply be a written confirmation by both parties. This, along with paying through bank, forms a connection between the landlord and the renter which could aid a legal investigation when the fraud is reported to authorities.
It is by making one another aware of the rife rental fraud that we can aid and protect one another in the midst of an intensifying living crisis.
Most importantly, never be afraid to seek help. The search for accommodation undoubtedly an arduous task and becoming victim to rental fraud can happen to anyone. It is therefore crucial to seek aid wherever possible. If you do experience an accommodation scam, it should be reported to the local Garda Station immediately. As scammers often flee the country, it is fundamental to make authorities aware as soon as possible. If family and friends are available, inform them of your situation. If you are connected to a university, contacting student advisors or the Student Union could aid you on your path in finding refuge. Furthermore, Threshold offer free tenancy advice daily and are available from 9am to 9pm on their freephone helpline: 1800-454-454. It is by making one another aware of the rife rental fraud that we can aid and protect one another in the midst of an intensifying living crisis.