- New initiative launches as students seek accommodation for new semester in September
- Using secure payment methods, requesting written agreements of tenure conditions and viewing the property in person are key recommendations to avoid rental scams
- Students urged to report scams and make use of relevant outlets for advice and information
The national housing charity Threshold has joined forces with the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) and the Union of Students Ireland (USI) to raise awareness of rental scams ahead of the new academic year, next month. The Scamwatch campaign launches as thousands of students begin searching for accommodation across Ireland.
Each year, hundreds of students are targeted by false “landlords” and scammers seeking to con them out of their savings by offering accommodation units and properties, that they either purport to be renting, or don’t exist. Last year, one student who fell victim to a complex scam was Levi Amarilo.
Levi arrived in March from Brazil and began searching for accommodation ahead of commencing his English language studies here.He spotted an ad on Facebook for a studio in Rathmines, which was posted by a fellow Brazilian. He moved into this with his partner and became friendly with the man he had paid €2,400 for a deposit and one months’ rent to. He told him his brother was also coming to Ireland from Brazil and this man suggested he move to a larger property on the River Liffey for €3,000 a month. Levi viewed this and decided to move there, and he and his partner spent all of their money on the €6,000 required for the deposit and month’s rent.
Two days after they moved in, he awoke late one morning to find 12 people from countries including Chile, Mexico, Spain and Brazil in the front room, after the Brazilian “landlord” had given them all keys to “move in” on the same day, and subsequently fled to Sao Paulo. Levi and the other “renters” realised they had been scammed out of a huge amount of money as the property was only vacant temporarily, but despite the Gardaí’s involvement, there was no refunds as the scammer had escaped out of the jurisdiction. Only through the help of his Irish employer [Levi was working part-time in a hotel] – who provided him with a short-term hotel room to stay in – and a loan which he repaid, did he and his partner manage to successfully rent another studio, and remain in Ireland.
Levi’s situation is not uncommon, with many other prospective renters facing similar experiences each year. False websites are reportedly becoming an increasingly common platform for scams, as well as websites that appear as replicas of real letting platforms such as Daft.ie and Airbnb. Fake accounts posing as landlords offering accommodation on social media websites such as Facebook are also becoming a regular location for rental scams to take place.
The new campaign highlights the “dos and don’ts” for students and provides them with contact information for Threshold, ICOS and USI where they can request advice about their rights as private renters and safeguards, they should take to avoid scams. See www.threshold.ie/faq/how-to-spot-a-scam/ for more information.
John-Mark McCafferty, CEO of Threshold stated:
“Threshold is increasingly aware of a surge of rental scams, particularly ahead of the academic period, with students unfortunately being easy targets. In a highly competitive, low supply rental market, scams are on the rise. It’s important that students and all renters nationwide are aware of such scams and take the appropriate actions to prevent themselves from falling into these traps.
To avoid rental scams, it is key that renters take precautions, such as requesting a written agreement of rental terms and conditions and using a secure payment method – and not cash in hand – after the contract has been signed and witnessed in the presence of the other party. Never rush headlong into anything – scammers do apply pressure, which is one of the telltale signs. We strongly encourage any student or renter who is unsure if they are being scammed to contact our advisors for free advice and support.”
Laura Harmon, Executive Director of the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) commented on the campaign launch, stating:
“We strongly support this campaign given the growing nature of fraudulent cases involving international students trying to source accommodation in the rental sector here. A study that ICOS carried out last year involving almost 500 international students found that nearly one-in-seven (14%) said that they had been a victim of an accommodation scam while in Ireland, of whom a quarter were English language students.
“These students are often more vulnerable as English is not their first language and they usually don’t have relations or friends they can stay with in the short-term while looking for a place to live. We encourage all students to read and heed all the advice in this campaign, and to contact the various channels provided if they have concerns or queries.”
Zaid Al-Barghouthi, Vice President for Campaigns, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) spoke to the launch, adding:
“Students are already facing so many hurdles in relation to renting a place for college; be that the dearth of availability, the exorbitant cost, having to pay for and travel long distances to attend college etc. So, to see people taking advantage of desperation in some cases, is really disheartening.
“The USI and member students’ unions in Third Level Institutions nationwide are on hand to help, and we urge all students to be vigilant and on their guard in relation to the various – and ever more complex – rental scams that are out there. We hope this campaign can serve as a reference for students as they are on the hunt for a place to live. Also, if you recognise a scam, or have been a victim of one, it’s important to report it to the Gardaí.”
The Dos & Don’ts of Rental Scams
Threshold has provided an extensive list of advice containing ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for students to consider when organising accommodation for their academic year. The housing charity, alongside ICOS and the USI recommends a number of key actions that students can take to prevent falling into a scam:
- Do Inspect the Property in Person. Whenever possible, visit the property and the landlord in person before making any payments. Avoid only relying on online photos or virtual tours.
- Do Ask for a Contract by requesting a written contract (also known as a license or tenancy agreement) that clearly explains the terms and conditions of the rental agreement, including rent amount, deposit and any additional fees.
- Do Seek Advice and consult with student support services and unions, accommodation offices, student councils or housing experts like Threshold if you have doubts or concerns about a rental offer.
The organisations also urge students and renters to take precautions against scams and avoid doing the following when agreeing to accommodation:
- Don’t Share Personal Information Online and be cautious about sharing personal information on public platforms, especially social media, where scammers often try to find potential victims.
- Don’t Ignore Red Flags. Pay attention to red flags (suspicious situations), like exceptionally low rent, a landlord living abroad, foreign bank account details or inconsistent information.
- Don’t Use Unsecured Payment Methods and refrain from using unsecured payment methods like wire transfers or cryptocurrency for rental transactions. Bank transfers are the preferred method to pay your deposit and rent, as they are more secure and leave a trace.
Threshold, ICOS and the USI all strongly encourage any students to contact their services for support if they fear that they are being scammed for accommodation or have recently fallen into a scam.
Threshold’s helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9am- 9pm at 1800 454 454, with webchat at www.threshold.ie/get-help/ for any renter in need of advice or support.
For information and advice for students moving to Ireland to study, visit www.internationalstudents.ie/info-and-advice, or contact the ICOS on +353 1 660 5233.
For student support and advice, visit www.usi.ie,or contact the USI (01) 7099 300.