Fake Landlord Scam Leaves International Student Homeless
Earlier this month the PDPLA was contacted by a desperate student who said, "I want to ask what can I do if my landlord is ignoring me? I am from Malaysia just arrived Portsmouth yesterday. I"ve been calling the number that he gave me in the agreement but there's no answer. If you can guide me, it would be much appreciated. I made the agreement on 9th July and already paid the rent and the deposit. I hope it is not a scam because he gave me all the right details and a copy of his passport etc."
The bad news is that this was a scam, the good news is that all the appropriate organisations pulled together and this student now has a room in one of the University student halls, though he has lost a lot of money. Read on for details of the scam and how it can be avoided...
The student had been sent an AST for a property in Dean Street in Portsmouth along with a copy of the fake landlords passport (see pictures). We contacted Bruce Lomax at Portsmouth City Council and his team were quickly able to confirm that this was a scam, within an hour Bruce responded, "I have spoken to the landlord of 2, Dean Street and they have not let the property to this person. I have also checked the address the "landlord" has given and this is a housing association property and according to our records he does not live there. I have no other records indicating that this person is a landlord in Portsmouth."
It was at this point the University student housing team kicked in and found young student a room in their halls.
Our 'web guy" Nick Vine also stepped in and further confirmed this was a scam, stating: "Google offers a great piece of functionality - the ability to search the web by looking for an image. By searching the image of the passport which this student sent, the news is - bad!
https://scamwarners.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=39&p=265208" This link confirmed that this was an ongoing scam with other victims falling for exactly the same passport image and modus operandi.
Whilst all of the organisations involved did a fantastic job in reaction to this incident, the PDPLA still believes more can be done to avoid further incidents in the future.
Firstly, the University needs to do more to help foreign students - they are the students from whom the University makes most money, yet they often appear to be at the end of the queue for rooms in halls. Every year we have ERASMUS students (those on EU funded 4-5 month educational exchange programmes) pleading with us for rooms - when there is a shortage of accommodation, no local landlord is going to take a student on a 5 month contract with no guarantee of a replacement for the 2nd half of the year, when they can take a normal 'full year" student. Indeed, an AST of less than 6 months is not actually legal - so that complicates matters further. The Uni needs to allocate enough halls rooms to handle the ERASMUS students and manage the transition from those here for the 1st half of the year to those here for the 2nd.
It also needs to provide better information to potential foreign students on how the PRS works in the UK and what is acceptable and what is not - so for example, only use letting agents with ARLA, RICS or similar accreditation, only use private landlords who are accredited by PCC or the PDPLA or who advertise on managed sites such as StudentPad.
Finally, we believe that landlords and the University should promote international student guarantor schemes such as the one we detailed in our April meeting (more details for PDPLA members here). This avoids the need for either side to exchange monies with unknown parties and thus avoids situations such as this one.
Scams such as this one are estimated to cost individuals £775M / year according to one recent survey.
If you have experience or views on property scams such as this, do please let us know at