The thing we find most detestable about scammers, is that they prey on the most vulnerable, and the most desperate members of society.
Naturally, this makes sense for people without a conscience. Vulnerable, desperate people are more willing to put their trust, and money, in others, because honestly, they have few, if any, alternatives.
This is why dating site cons are so successful. Every week, we read about some middle aged woman or elderly man who lost their life savings to some gorgeous hunk o’ flesh from the Mediterranean, or Mexico, or the far east. Occasionally, one of the tabloids will send a photographer to the airport, to snap a quick pic of the victim as they stumble, dejected and destitute through the arrivals lounge towards the bus which will take them home to a life of misery and poverty.
And those are the lucky ones. For many victims, there isn’t even a real person with whom they can spend a blissful few weeks, before their Latin lover disappears out of the hotel window with a briefcase full of cash. For many, it’s an automated system being fed lines by a typing pool of students in Hyderabad.
And the rest of us eat our corn flakes, and scoff at the sheer imbecility of the victims. How could anyone be so stupid?
Renters are even more vulnerable to scams than the loveless and lonely. Witness the dozens of prospective tenants who, after seeing an advert on gumtree, handed over a hefty deposit and months of rent in advance for properties which either didn’t exist or which weren’t owned by the person taking out the ad. Fools.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll have noticed the letting agent, Flintons, has been, “demanding hundreds of pounds in payment before prospective tenants are allowed to view properties for rent.”
This is not a scam. If you read the BBC article, you will note that the word, “scam” appears nowhere in the text. And because we have expensive qualifications in media law, we’re not going to use the word, scam, in relation to Flintons practices, either. Please consider everything prior to this paragraph as entirely unrelated.
What Flintons is doing is charging a holding deposit £300. This is completely legal, and is handed over by potential tenants to reserve a property. It’s also non refundable, and Flintons issues paperwork and receipts to that effect.
That Flintons’ customers recall staff telling them that they would be able to get the £300 back, is by the by. It’s irrelevant. There’s nothing to prove that anyone said anything of the sort, and a receipt (issued to tenants after they’ve handed over the cash) which says the opposite. See? It can’t be a scam.
We haven’t been able to find out just how many of these ‘holding deposits’ Flintons has taken from its customers, and we haven’t been able to puzzle out just how, having taken a holding deposit from one customer – in effect a reservation – they can then take another reservation fee from a different customer for the same property.
Experts in the field have said that the practice is, “legally questionable.” They have said it is, “quite likely to be seen by professional people in the property sector as unreasonable and unfair behaviour.” They have even gone so far as saying that what Flintons is doing is likely to be an offence under the consumer protection from unfair trading regulations.
But they haven’t said that Flintons is conning its customers. The experts have not said that Flintons is intentionally ripping people off.
So we won’t either.
If and when trading standards investigates and issues a judgement, you can be sure that rent.works will let you know exactly what it says.
Until then, make sure you read the reviews before handing over your hard earned cash to any letting agents.