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Gardaí receiving 'daily reports' of accommodation scams in which renters lose hundreds of Euro

Gardaí are advising students to be cautious of scams ahead of the new academic year.

GARDAÍ SAY THEY are receiving daily reports of rental scams as the country exits the pandemic.

Raw figures show there have been 60 scams reported since the start of June, with 503 cases of scams reported to gardaí between February 2019 and May 2021, amounting to €900,000 in theft.

42% of the people affected were under the age of 25 and almost half of the scams were based in the Dublin region.

In the last 18 months, gardaí have observed a decline in the incidents, which have been attributed to Covid-19 restrictions.

However, Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan from the National Economic Crime Bureau believes gardaí will “absolutely” see this figure rise as restrictions cease.

“There will be an increase, those 500 scams came during a year when all college campuses were closed and nobody was going on holidays abroad,” he told The Journal.

Gardaí say that “while accommodation frauds have declined in recent months due to Covid 19 restrictions”, the “new generation of third level students seeking accommodation could be a target for fraudsters”.

Cryan is advising students to only use reconised letting agencies or deal with trusted people.

“Websites can be cloned, check the URL to ensure it’s a real website and take note of the privacy and refund policy sections,” Cryan said.

“Be very wary of social media advertisements or where a person letting the location will only communicate via messenger or WhatsApp. You should push for direct answers and if responses are vague disengage immediately,” he said.

Included among recent cases recorded by gardaí are:
  • A man who responded to an ad on a rental website and communicated with the advertiser, who it later turned out was living in Eastern Europe, eventually sending €650 for an apartment on Capel Street in Dublin, which never existed;
  • Two women hoping to rent a home in Portlaoise were instead scammed out of an €800 deposit;
  • A woman living in Frankfurt who hoped to rent in Ireland who was instead conned by a fraudster in Poland;
  • A woman in Louth who thought she was renting through a well-known website, which was cloned by scammers.

Sole traders

The profile of those involved in student accommodation fraud are “localised sole traders”, Cryan said.

“This is a guy who will put up the ad, take a deposit off a number of people and then run with the money. It’s fairly basic but it’s effective to get money in this climate.

“They’ll usually meet the student to get cash handed over and so there’ll be CCTV, and a lot of them will be identified afterwards but unfortunately the student will still be down a lot of money. Once you hand cash over it’s difficult for it to be recovered.”

Cryan said prospective renters should watch out for unsolicited contact or where contact seems to be based outside of Ireland, particularly if the communication comes with a sense of urgency, like mentions of a ‘one-time offer’.

“If you have decided to take up the offer only use trusted money transfer systems,” Cryan said.

“I would recommend using a credit card. Never transfer money direct, pay cash, pay into cryptocurrency wallets,” he said.

“Be wary if a website is asking you to send money to a random PayPal address, wire it by Western Union, pay in iTunes gift cards or only deals in cryptocurrency. The majority of the time, those methods are done to avoid scrutiny and ensure that a transaction can’t be reversed.”

Higher education institutions intend to return to campuses next month with “maximum on-site presence”.

Associations representing colleges and universities announced plans last week to facilitate students learning on-campus through sanitation, ventilation, and occupancy limits.

For many students, it will be their first time to have classes on campus since 2020 – or their first time entirely for first and second years.

Chair of the Irish Universities Association and president of NUI Galway Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh said third level institutions are “determined to put in place all the measures advised by public health to make the return to campus safe and sustainable for our students, our staff and for society”.

“A key element of this determination is personal as well as institutional responsibility and we urge all our students to take up the offer of a vaccination in good time for September.”

CAO Round One offers are due to be released next month on 7 September, four days after Leaving Certs results on the 3rd.

Additional reporting by Eoghan Dalton

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