Which? is warning prospective renters to beware scam lettings agencies and scam landlords following a case where £5,600 was conned out of a victim.
The consumer group says the fake lettings agency called itself Villageway Lettings.
A fake landlord sent a falsified Booking.com link to reserve a London property after a virtual viewing in March.
Then a genuine would-be renter transferred his savings from his current account, believing he had secured the flat for two years.
Which? says the scam started with an email from email@example.com offering the victim the chance to view a property in a south London block of flats - the would-be renter knew the block having been on a genuine viewing previously with RE/Max.
Andrea Frigo, director of RE/Max Property Group told Which? that it has never had a relationship with Villageway Lettings and never shared any contact details with any third parties. It is also unaware of any data breaches from its database.
The victim was told to contact the landlord directly, in Switzerland; the victim checked the details as best he could, and was satisfied enough to proceed - at that point he made the cash transfer from his bank account with Revolut bank.
Then lockdown intervened so a few weeks later the victim contacted the landlord but heard nothing; he then went to the police and to Trading Standards.
Booking.com confirmed that the email on which the payment was requested had nothing to do with the company and that it operated via accounts ending in ‘@booking.com’ - the fake account was ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.
When Which? intervened it tried to contact ‘Villageway Lettings’ but received no response.
It transpired that the bank used by the con artists was a Lithuanian tech company called Via Payments UAB using the brand name Vialet which has a banking licence from Bank of Lithuania.
To compound the injury to the victim, Revolut bank has refused to refund the scammed money, telling Which? that it “does not provide refunds in cases of customer negligence” and that in this case the customer made the transfer “willingly and on his own”.
You can read more details about the fake agency and the scam here.