As with any kind of online dealing, its important to be careful when youre looking for a flatshare. Here are our top tips to help you stay safe at every stage of your search:
Responding to ads
- It might sound obvious, but never sign or pay anything before viewing the room. If you cant see it in person, try and get a friend to go on your behalf
- Stick to using SpareRoom to message advertisers dont be tempted to use other contact details hidden in an ad until you can trust that they are who they say
- If youre worried an advertiser isnt who they say they are, do a quick Google or have a look at their LinkedIn to see if theyre legitimate
- When it comes to checking ID, make sure you see it in the presence of the person it belongs to. Dont accept an emailed scan as proof
- The golden rule? Always use and trust your common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is look out for properties that are unusually cheap for the area, or in a remarkable condition for the price. Trust your instincts and dont let the pressure of finding something quickly cloud your judgement
Safety at viewings
- Find out the exact address of the property before you visit. Not only does this mean you can have a nosey on streetview (and check the area out), you can also tell someone exactly where and when youre going before the viewing
- Try to take someone with you to the viewing its handy to have a second opinion, and a good way to make yourself feel safer. If no ones around, make sure youve told someone where youre going and contact them once the viewing is finished
- Double check that the property is secure and youre happy with the safety of the surrounding streets. If youre unfamiliar with the area, its worth visiting at night time as well as during the day
- Ask to meet everyone who lives/will be living at the property. This will help you get to know all of your potential flatmates, and gives you a sense of their characters. Always trust your instincts if something doesnt feel right, dont move in
Before handing over money
- Always ask to see a copy of the tenancy agreement before committing to the room. This is a legal requirement, and you should never join a flatshare without one
- Have a look at the landlord, flatmate or agent's ID (passport or driving licence) before handing over any money and note down their name. If you have any doubts you can do a Google search or check them out on LinkedIn to see if they're legitimate. Theyre also legally required to see your ID (and make a copy of it) more info on that here
- Use a free online sort-code checker before making payments by bank transfer this will show you which financial institution the account is registered with. You should also never make any payments to a pre-paid card issuer
- If you want to check that someone is the legal owner of a property, you can run a quick check on the Land Registry for £3
- If you're dealing with an agent, check them out online and call their main number to make sure theyre a legitimate employee
- Agents also have to be part of a Property Redress Scheme, so ask them which one theyre registered with and check out their registered details
- Ask which tenancy deposit scheme the landlord or agent is using. This is a legal requirement that ensures your money is protected in a separate scheme, ready to be returned at the end of your tenancy (rather than going into your landlords pocket)
Never pay anything via Western Union or another anonymous money transfer system. Weve got more info about this particular scam here.
What we do to protect you
One of the things were proudest of at SpareRoom is also one of the things we dont shout about as much as we should our moderation team.
At SpareRoom we monitor and double check every single ad posted to stop fraudsters in their tracks. We have both manual and automated systems in place that will pick up the majority of attempted scams preventing scammers from sending messages or placing ads. As a result, most flatshares created on our site are totally legitimate with great landlords and agents who play by the rules.
But occasionally things do slip through the net. Our users will usually let us know immediately so that we can remove the offender and warn other users of their activities.
One simple security measure weve introduced is telling all landlords and agents to be prepared to show you their ID before you hand over any money. The same applies to current flatmates if theyre taking the deposit from you. Dont be afraid to ask and feel free to note their name down too.
Update October 2017:
We've introduced new guidelines for viewings. We're now asking all landlords and agents to be prepared to show you ID before you hand over any money, including a deposit. The same applies to current flatmates if they're the ones taking the deposit. We're also asking people to let you note down their name.
Ask to see some ID before you hand over any money - a driving licence or passport are the best forms of proof - and don't be afraid to ask if they don't offer.
Don't forget there's a 'report this ad' link on every ad on SpareRoom. If you're not sure about something you can ask us to have a look or contact us for help.