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The image of a fake listing in Facebook Marketplace.

Facebook Marketplace and Property Fraud

Cases

April 12, 2024

We asked a Facebook scammer if we could view a house 'to let' in Greater Manchester... this is what happened  

Scammers are targeting people looking for a place to live in Greater Manchester with fake listings.

The frauds play on the region's housing shortage to try and con would-be tenants out of hundreds of pounds at a time.

The Manchester Evening News has discovered that fake ads are being placed on Facebook Marketplace for homes to let.

The posters ask people to contact them by WhatsApp - the encrypted messaging service which is supposed to be more secure than other forms of messaging - to enquire about the properties. But when asked about viewing the property, the scammers insist cash must be handed over first, for what they claim is a 'refundable deposit'.

 

Here, the M.E.N's Stephen Topping looks at what the problem means for house hunters and agents - reveals what happened when he approached an online scammer and finds out what Facebook is doing about the problem.

The warning signs

Having seen a post about the scam affecting someone in Droylsden, Tameside, I searched Facebook Marketplace for myself to look for other suspicious adverts.

I searched for properties to rent within 5km of Manchester and trawled through the list of houses, apartments and flat shares that came back.

Many adverts looked legitimate - such as city dwellers searching for new housemates to take on a room, or tenants looking for someone to take over their tenancy - at prices you would expect to see in Manchester.

But I found a number of adverts which didn't quite look right.  

I looked out for two warning signs in particular - posters who gave a number asking to be contacted on WhatsApp, and properties which were listed by established letting agents elsewhere online.

During one afternoon early in January, I found three properties which met both of those criteria.

One was for a modern two-bedroom apartment in New Islington, which was advertised on Facebook at £950 a month, despite being listed by letting agent Hunters in Manchester at £1,200 a month.

Another listing was for a three-bedroom home in Miles Platting, offered on Facebook at £890 a month, despite being listed by Purple Bricks for £1,200 a month.

 

Both Hunters and Purple Bricks confirmed the two Marketplace adverts were fake.

The third was for a house on Parvet Avenue in Droylsden, advertised on Facebook at £700 a month, while Salts man andCo had a listing for the property at £725 a month.

I sent a message to all three of the WhatsApp numbers listed, but just one person replied, who claimed to be offering the Parvet Avenue home.

During an exchange of messages, they confirmed the rent would be £700 a month, asked how many people would be moving in and when.

I said I'd be looking to move into the property in February with one housemate, and in response received a reply which said: "That's is a really long time from now and property won't be available by then.

 

"However you can secure the property for yourself."

I asked the scammer if it would be possible to view the house first.

It was at this point they revealed the huge price they were looking for in order to see the house.

They replied: "Firstly, the property will be available for viewing tomorrow but you will have to obtain an application form to fill it out and send it back for verification.

"If I get to verify and approve your application then you will have to pay your security deposit of £500 so as to secure the property to yourself against other takers because there are lots ofpeople ringing and texting me for renting this property.

"Note this: No viewing will be arranged without paying the security deposit of £500 and it's a refundable deposit.

"If you're ready for it send me your email so as to send the application to you now."

It was the brazen response I was expecting - but it was shocking to see such a huge amount of money being requested, just to view a house offered for £700 a month.

Not least after Salts man and Co confirmed that the Facebook listing that led to the demand wasn't genuine.

'Juststunned for words'

The M.E.N. first heard about the issue affecting residents in the Droy lsden area earlier this month.

A resident shared her WhatsApp conversation with another scammer, who had advertised a property in NewtonStreet on Facebook Marketplace.

The advert claimed the house was available for £875 a month, although Salts man and Co was listing the property for £1,050 a month at the time.

 

When asked on WhatsApp about viewing the property, the scammer replied: "You will have to pay your refundable security deposit first to secure the property to yourself against other takers before I book an appointment with you for viewing and keys to the house."

The resident shared the conversation on Facebook, telling other users she was 'just stunned for words to be honest'.

She told the M.E.N. : "I can't imagine how many vulnerable people have fell for this scam, it's awful."

Other Facebook users replied to the post on the Droylsden Residents and Crimewatch Group, reporting they had been faced with similar situations.

'They have got to take responsibility'

Greater Manchester has awell-known shortage of affordable homes.

Against that backdrop, it's easy to see how someone desperate for a new home could fall into an online scammer's trap.

Kevin Ruthven, a director at Saltsman andCo estate agents in Droylsden, is concerned that more vulnerable Greater Manchester residents could become victims to the scam.

He told the M.E.N. he has made several reports to Facebook about fake listings - including those which have not been copied from Saltsman and Co - but says the social media giant is 'doing nothing about it'.

Mr Ruthven said: "I've reported it so many times. I have emailed them direct to say this is a scam, and the listing is still on Facebook.

"It's just disgusting. Four times other staff have reported it and it's still on there.

"I found one and you could tell it was a fake straight away. It was a two-bedroom flat in the city centre for £550 a month. "I think whoever is doing it has realised they have got away with it once or twice."

Mr Ruthven says the problem has got worse 'over the past couple of months'.

He also found that some of the profiles which offer the fake listings - both in Manchester and elsewhere in the country- often say they joined Facebook several years ago, suggesting the people behind the adverts are not getting banned.

 

WhatFacebook's owner says

The M.E.N. passed over the details of the listings to Meta, the company which runs both Facebook and WhatsApp. The company says it is investigating and will remove listings that violate its policies.

 

A spokesperson for Meta said: "We don’t want fraudulent or inauthentic behaviour on our platforms and we’re sorry people are being misled in this way.

"We continue to invest in people and technology to remove this type of activity from our platforms, and we urge people to report any suspicious listings, accounts or posts to us and the police, so that we can take action.

"We’ve also donated £3 million to Citizens Advice to deliver a UK Scam Action Programme which raises awareness of online scams and helps victims."

Facebook users are urged to report buyers or sellers who aren't acting in good faith, using the 'report item' option on Marketplace.

How to avoid 'rental fraud'

 

ActionFraud describes the activity discovered by the M.E.N. as 'rental fraud' - when would-be tenants are tricked into paying a fee upfront for a property that either does not exist, has already been rented out, or has been rented to multiple victims at the same time.

 

It gives the following advice to avoid becoming a victim:

·      Do not send money to anyone advertising rental properties online until you are certain the advertiser is genuine

·      If you need to secure accommodation in the UK from overseas, seek the help of the employer or university you are coming to, or get a friend, contact or relative to check the property exists and is available

·      Do not pay any money until you or a reliable contact has visited the property with an agent or the landlord

·      Ask for copies of tenancy agreements and any safety certificates such as gas, electricity or HMO licence

·      Do not be pressurised into transferring large sums of money -transfer funds to a bank account having obtained the details by contacting the landlord or agent directly after the above steps have been followed and

be sceptical if you’re asked to transfer any money via a money transfer service like Western Union.

Anyone who falls victim to 'rental fraud' is urged to contact Action Fraud immediately- click here for more details.

It goes deeper than this. The scammer purchases a hacked Facebook account from a hacker, on the dark web, using bitcoin. The hacker uses the old scam of messaging people online to 'work' from home, the 'Job' is to simply allow your bank account to be used for 'deposits 'then withdraw the funds, keep an agreed sum, and send the bulk of it via western union, to another country, as long as the person does this they will remain 'employed' they then message other people on FB, claiming to be a 'realestate agent' and offer the person to 'work from home' posting adverts for lettings on behalf of their 'company' so the adds trace to someone scammed, the initial FB profile use to organise the scams is a stolen one, the bank accounts belong to 'scammed' people. The final money is untraceable. I was approached today, to 'work from home' by a 'Real estate agent' who when told he was a scammer and would be reported, said, go ahead, then simply posted photos of myself, stolen from my closed FB profile to me. An unspoken threat.. I have reported the account, fb may eventually close it, and the scammer will buy another.