herald

Monday 25 September 2017

Rent crisis: 'He is still out there', warns father caught out by scammer

Simon Kershaw, who fell victim to an online scam
Simon Kershaw, who fell victim to an online scam

A father who was scammed out of €1,500 while looking for student accommodation in Dublin for his daughter has urged other parents to be extra vigilant, warning that the scammer is "still out there".

Simon Kershaw had been searching for accommodation for his daughter Charlotte, who studies dentistry at Trinity College.

With two daughters in university, Simon said it was "proving unsustainable" to pay €8,000 a year for on-campus accommodation.

Sharp

Having stayed in campus accommodation in Trinity last year, Charlotte (21) had been frantically looking for a room to stay in over the summer.

"Charlotte is actually really sharp and I remember when she was looking through Daft.ie and she was able to spot 28 out of 40 places which were fraud," Simon told the Herald.

While searching online, Charlotte found a place being advertised on Facebook and decided to contact the advertiser.

"We were scouring the advertisements online and through social media and found a place on a student accommodation page on Facebook," Simon said.

The place in question was a property on Townsend Street in Dublin city centre and would have been ideal for studying in Trinity.

Simon, who now lives in West Cork, decided to ring the would-be landlord. After the landlord suggested initially to talk through messaging service WhatsApp, he rang the man on a UK number.

"He said that the room was available and that we couldn't view it as he was in the UK and we were in Cork," he said.

The man then said that they could put a refundable deposit down on the property to secure it.

The fraudster then asked Simon to transfer the money using the financial service Western Union but Simon thought that "smelled of a racket".

"There was no traceability with that but the room had become available so we saw an opportunity," he said.

Simon then told the man that he would transfer the deposit by bank transfer.

Fraudster

The contract was sent via email and the keys were to be sent via courier once the fraudster confirmed the money had transferred.

Rather than the keys, they received a further email about a double letting.

"He said that they had unfortunately sub-let the room and gave us the option of returning the money or putting down the first four months' rent to guarantee the room," Simon said.

He said he would send two months' rent instead and this appeared to be agreeable with the man.

When the keys failed to turn up by courier as promised, Simon tried to contact the man again. However he was greeted with no answer and the original Facebook page had been taken down.

"Later on, once the second transfer was confirmed we received an email from 'the courier' confirming our address and a delivery date," he said.

"It was an elaborate scheme and such actions kept us off the scent of the scam until it was too late.

"We're quite cautious people and we still got caught for it which is very disappointing."

However, Simon said, unbelievably, Charlotte was contacted separately after the fiasco, being advertised a room at the same address.

"We couldn't believe it, but obviously they are still out there," Simon said.

Gardai have urged people to be wary of rental scams.

"People need to establish that the house exists and that it is available for rent," a Garda spokesperson said.

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