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Scams to look out for

Scams to look out for

We've always been proud of our efforts to monitor and check every single ad posted, to stop fraudsters in their tracks. But sometimes things do slip through the net, and it's important to be aware of them.

Here are a few of the most common scams we've spotted over the years at SpareRoom, and how to outsmart them.

The 'official host' scam

How it works:

  • The scammer will pose as an "official SpareRoom host" on another website, e.g. housing groups on Facebook, school accommodation sites etc.
  • They will likely ask for money to secure your reservation to view an apartment or room. They'll claim to be responsible for handling deposits for the room/apartment – saying they're part of the "SpareRoom Moderation Team". They will tell you that no landlord or agent is authorized to collect your money.
  • The scammer will promise to issue you a "Assured Tenancy Agreement Contract" which proves you're the next candidate in line to secure the apartment.
  • If you transfer them any deposit money, they'll likely disappear with your money and you won't get to view or secure the room/apartment.

How to avoid it:

  • The SpareRoom team will never get involved in any part of the rental process or handle payments. We would never ask a user to pay a deposit to us, so be wary if this happens.
  • Don't hand any money over for a room/apartment before you've actually seen it.
  • Research the "official host" on Google or LinkedIn, and ask to see their ID before handing money over if you're not sure.

The 'overpayment' scam

How it works:

  • The scammer will pose as a room seeker and will offer to pay upfront for a room (without seeing it) as they aren't in the country.
  • They'll 'accidentally' pay too much, and ask you to send the difference back.
  • You'll send the money back, but their original payment will bounce back, be recalled or won't actually clear – leaving you out of pocket.

How to avoid it:

  • Be wary of anyone that offers to pay without actually viewing a room.

The 'pre-paid' card scam

How it works:

  • The landlord of the room you're interested in will ask for the deposit as usual, but request it to a pre-paid card.
  • They will then disappear with your money. The nature of these cards means the funds on them aren't insured so you're unlikely to have legal protection to claim your money back.

How to avoid it:

  • If you're making a transfer in store rather than online, ask your bank to verify the payment's destination first.

The 'for sale' scam

How it works:

  • The scammer will find a property online that's for sale (not to lease). They'll research and find out what the land owner's name is.
  • They'll advertise the property using the land owner's name.
  • They may message users inviting them to see the property.
  • They'll tell interested tenants that the property is for sale as well as for rent.
  • They'll pretend they're abroad, claiming there's a disagreement between themselves and the realtor about leasing the property – and will convince potential tenants to arrange a viewing, posing as potential buyer.
  • If the tenant likes the property, the scammer will ask to have the deposit sent directly to them.
  • Inevitably, the tenant won't hear from them again and won't be able to (legally) move in.

How to avoid it:

  • Any landlord who asks you to pretend to be a buyer in order to view a property is NOT a legitimate landlord.
  • Research the landlord on LinkedIn or Google beforehand, and ask to see their ID before handy any money over.

The 'Western Union' scam

How it works:

  • The person advertising the room will ask for a money transfer for the 'rent' before you've even seen the room.
  • They will claim this is needed to secure the property.
  • This transaction will be untraceable, so your bank can't get involved if money goes missing (and you're left without a room).
  • The 'advertiser' may ask you to send the money to a friend and send a photo of the receipt to prove you have enough money to rent the room. They'll use this receipt to collect the money and you'll probably never hear from them again.

How to avoid it:

  • NEVER use Western Union unless you know the person you're sending the money to.
  • Don't hand money over for anything before you've seen it.
  • If you can't see the room yourself (e.g. you're overseas), arrange for someone you trust to see it for you before committing.

The golden rule

Remember: if something looks and sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your judgement, and don't be afraid to walk away if something doesn't feel right. And don’t forget, you can always contact our [customer services team]( if you’re unsure about anything or just need some advice.