In a distressing incident, a 22-year-old student, Eason Lee, and his friend found themselves ensnared in a sophisticated rental scam in London, resulting in a loss exceeding Rs 13 lakh. Lee, desperate to secure accommodation in the competitive London rental market, fell prey to what appeared to be a legitimate listing for a two-bedroom flat in Stratford, east London, on OpenRent.
Unbeknownst to him, the scammers operated under a genuine agency's name, creating a convincing facade. To gain access to the flat, Lee booked it through Booking.com, believing it to be a legitimate transaction. After viewing the property and receiving what seemed like genuine contracts and invoices, Lee and his friend made a substantial upfront payment equivalent to six months' rent and a deposit equal to five weeks' rent. However, their hopes were dashed when an alarming email from OpenRent raised red flags, leaving them in a state of panic.
Despite multiple attempts to contact the agent, their efforts proved futile, and they were left without keys to the property. In this frustrating period, Lee encountered other victims who had fallen prey to similar schemes.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, Lee reported the scam to OpenRent, their bank, and eventually, to Action Fraud, the authority handling fraud and cybercrime reports. Action Fraud informed Lee that their case would undergo a comprehensive 28-day review, potentially leading to a thorough investigation by the Metropolitan Police.
This incident sheds light on the escalating issue of rental fraud in the UK, with reported cases surging by 23% from 2021 to 2022, as per data from Action Fraud. The unfortunate experience serves as a cautionary tale, emphasizing the importance of thorough verification and legal paperwork before making any financial commitments, especially in unfamiliar territories. For Indians travelling abroad, exercising vigilance is crucial, as scammers often target newcomers unfamiliar with the local rental procedures, emphasizing the need for careful scrutiny to avoid falling victim to such scams.