Scammers are targeting people in Hastings who are desperate to find affordable housing in the private sector.
The scam was exposed by staff at the BHT’s Advice Centres in Eastbourne, Hastings and Brighton, and their Citizens Advice colleagues.
Those behind the scheme offer accommodation for rent and request a deposit up front, often amounting to hundreds of pounds, before the individual has seen the property. Except the property doesn’t exist and the scammers and the deposits are not seen again.
Veronica Tomlin from BHT’s advice centre, said: “Mainly in papers like the Friday-Ad and Gumtree, ads showing one bed flats for a low amount of around the £450 mark normally, although they are starting to up the price on ones in Brighton, all furnished looking like show homes. They don’t show the outside of course, as it isn’t real, and some don’t show pictures at all.
“A lot of the email addresses are hard to track. In the beginning it was possible to track the IP address and we could see they were coming from America but any Hotmail addresses which are widely used do not show the original IP address, therefore we cannot track them. We have picked up scams in Eastbourne, Hastings, Brighton and Bristol in their Friday-Ad equivalent called Trade-it.”
The charity did some detective work and received emails about different flats containing the same wording and the same names.
Veronica said: “Once we receive the email, we report them and get the ad removed. Some of the obvious ones we get removed straight away without emailing them as they are quite easy to spot.
“Our clients are quite vulnerable and we don’t want them to fall into the trap of giving a deposit to these people, only to never see their money again, so it is important for us to get to them first.”
* If you’ve been scammed, report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.