Trading standards officers in Kensington and Chelsea are again warning consumers about the perils of falling for property rental scams following recent reports of consumers being conned out of hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds for properties that do not exist for rent.
Scam websites are expected to increase in the run up to the Olympics as visitors scramble to find suitable short term rental accommodation in London, so it is important that thorough checks are made prior to parting with any money.
Many of the scams originate from abroad but the websites use `.co.uk' website addresses and will contain bogus contact addresses, fake domain name information and phone numbers that either call forward to abroad or go dead. In one case they have even hijacked another legitimate company's name to place on their website to make it look more credible.
Trading Standards has closed down two websites recently. One case involved Myholidaylets.net where a Scottish resident is alleged to have lost £1,500 after booking a non-existent flat in Camden for the Olympic period and another involved Youstayapartments.co.uk where a Malaysian visitor lost £1,000 for a flat off the King's Road that isn't available for rent. Three more sites advertising expensive city pads in Kensington and Mayfair are being looked into with a view to having them taken offline as soon as possible but more are expected as consumers realise they've been scammed or become worried about lack of proper documents and receipts etc.
Many of the scammers will ask for money to be sent by money transfer or by BACS and once the money has gone it is extremely unlikely that it can be recovered.
Trading Standards advises consumers to check and check again before parting with any money. Businesses that don't want to answer questions, or are elusive, are best avoided.
Councillor Fiona Buxton, Cabinet Member for Environmental Health, said: "This is a rather nasty way of parting innocent people from their money and we will continue to be vigilant and take action to close down these sites when we find them.
"But the public need to do some very thorough checking before sending their money. The old adage that, if it looks too good to be true then it probably is, is a good one to follow in these cases."
Scams can be reported to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08454 040506 or Trading Standards on 020 7361 3002 or email@example.com