St Albans family warns: ‘Bogus landlord scammed us out of our deposit’
- Credit: Archant
A rip-off “landlord” has allegedly repeatedly scammed money from prospective tenants by re-advertising the same property and not returning cash.
Mother-of-three Sam Burton, 40, who now lives in Watling View, St Albans, was looking for a place to rent, so she looked on Gumtree website and found a property she could afford.
Her partner went to look round a three-bed property in Meadowcroft, St Albans, and thought it was suitable, although the ‘landlord’ was acting suspiciously.
The ‘landlord’ seemed anxious and was on the phone during the viewing. He told her partner not to go in the front bedroom as his mother was in there. There were also CCTV cameras in every room.
Miss Burton, who was looking to move with her partner and three children aged 13, three and two years old, said: “We arranged for both of us to view and we signed the contract. Before I signed, I asked whether we should have a witness but he told us that we were each other’s witnesses.
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“After that we waited to move in but he kept giving us excuses and we ended up asking to stay in our property another month. In the end, he cancelled two days before we were due to move in.
“I had paid £1,195 deposit and was assured it was in a deposit scheme and would be returned. After asking several times for the money back, I said I would go to the police and he then got aggressive and sent threatening messages. I decided to start a small claim which is ongoing.”
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When the dental hygienist and therapist next looked on Gumtree to see if the same man was advertising the house, she realised to her horror that he was. She reported it to Gumtree but, she claims, they ignored it.
Herts Police advised Miss Burton at the time that it is a civil matter and asked her to contact Action Fraud - an organisation, which collates information and helps detect and prevent fraud.
She has since found out another family were conned out of £2,000 by the same man and it appears he doesn’t actually own the property he is advertising.
As there is now a pattern of alleged offences, it seems more likely to be a fraud crime than a civil matter of property rentals simply ‘falling through’ and him having difficulty paying back the deposit.
It took place last spring and she still has not received her money back. Miss Burton began a small claims process but the man has not returned the money. The cost of the small claims process is prohibitive in enforcing recouping the cash and if he owns nothing, she won’t get the money anyway.
She added: “I just want to warn people who are looking to rent places. I cannot believe this happened. Not only did we lose our deposit money but another unsuspecting family lost theirs. This man must be stopped. He cannot be allowed to get away with treating people in this manner. It’s not fair. It seems he can’t be stopped or checked.
“I feel violated. We had to find another deposit to move because we had already handed our notice in on our other house and we had to pay to extend our time there. I wish I had gone with my gut instinct and not parted with the cash. I’ve always rented through estate agents before but I knew people who had done it privately and it worked out well. You can save £200 a month. I will always use estate agents in future.”
Action Fraud recommends using reputable letting agents and not handing over money; always leave a paper trail, for example, pay through your bank wherever possible and trust your gut instinct – if something feels wrong it probably is. Report suspicious activity to police and Action Fraud to help detection of crime.