The classified ad website Gumtree is issuing an alert about what it claims is the growing threat of rental fraud.
It says conmen are taking advantage of the surge in demand for rental properties, especially from students.
Analysis by Gumtree of the 15 UK cities with the highest demand revealed that Edinburgh is seeing the biggest problem with supply with an average of 25 replies to every property to rent listed in the city.
This is followed by Birmingham (19), London (18), Leeds (17) and Liverpool (16).
Edinburgh also saw the highest average number of replies to listings for properties to share (25), followed by Glasgow (15), Leeds (8), Brighton (7) and Newcastle (6).
Overall, Gumtree say demand for properties to rent in the UK increased 117 per cent in the first half of 2023 against 2022 and properties to share saw a 34 per cent increase over the same period.
The figures come a week after a new report revealed fraudsters were routinely placing fake listings adverts online in a bid to cash in on the supply crisis.
Figures from Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre, show there were 5,751 reports of rental scams last year, a 23 per cent rise on 2021.
Total losses were £9.4 million, about £1,600 per victim and there were 541 cases last month alone.
Issuing a warning for people to be on their guard, Joseph Rindsland, Gumtree’s Head of Trust and Safety, says: “Given demand for rental properties and houses to share is up significantly in 2023, finding a new student home this academic year could be more difficult.
“As a result, fraudsters may try to take advantage of this situation so it is crucial to be savvy when house hunting. Be suspicious of any advert that sounds too good to be true, always visit the property in person, never pay an upfront fee and be wary if you aren’t asked to take part in any tenant screening.”
He adds: “Gumtree helps thousands of people find a place to live every year and we have a zero-tolerance approach to fraud on our platform.”
Those comments were echoed by Jonathan Rolande, from the National Association of Property Buyers who says: “Demand across the country has surged and as more landlords quit the sector creating even more scarcity in available property to rent. The rising popularity of short-term rentals has also seen many properties suitable for students disappear from the market.
“A post-Covid surge in students living close to their place of learning has further exacerbated the issue.
“It is perfectly safe to rent a property from a recognised seller site such as Gumtree, who take steps to eliminate fraud, but prospective tenants should also carry out their own checks.
“For students who have not rented before, we recommend seeking the assistance of a trusted friend or family member who has more experience with rentals. Sometimes the best way to avoid fraud is to listen to gut-feeling.”