Letting agents continue to be targeted with fraudulent applications

Letting agents continue to be targeted with fraudulent applications

18 December 2020

In 2020 alone we’ve had over 52,000 CIFAS alerts on the checks we carry out on behalf of our customers. In this article we share the details of a recent case and the steps taken to protect the letting agent and their landlord.

An application was logged in mid-December and as normal the potential tenant provided the details for their current landlord, along with the details of a Limited company to provide their financial reference.

The business that the applicant worked for was verified at the beginning of the reference using online matches, with it appearing on high profile business directories, however the business didn’t appear to have a company website. Whilst this isn’t uncommon, the applicant has stated a much higher income than average for the area and job role. Typically we’d expect that the employer would have their own website when they have employees being remunerated at this level.

The applicant had also provided a non-business email address for their employer. The prospective tenant’s employer had attempted to return a reference using this email address, however our system automation blocked this, creating an additional flag for the team to review the case.

With the reference flagged, the application moved out of the standard process flow and our team made contact with both applicants and employers to verify income through other means. In this case the applicant produced wage slips to verify their income. 

Upon review, several subtle elements of the payslips raised concerns, which prompted an escalation to our specialised Suspicious Applications team, along with a request for the applicant’s bank statements.

As a member of CIFAS, the UK’s largest cross-sector fraud sharing organisation, we were able to gain confirmation from the banks on the legitimacy of the documentation provided. In this case the bank confirmed that the name, account number and sort code didn’t match the applicant details, meaning that the sophisticated bank statements provided had been created for the purposes of committing fraud.

The application was declined within 36 hours of the reference being submitted and the final report was sent back to the letting agent. The total rent on the property for the initial 12 month tenancy term was over £13k. This case is by no means an isolated incident, with CIFAS alerts being flagged on over 52,000 tenant references in 2020 alone. 

“We’re able to bring our letting agent customers the best mix of technology, along with the experience of our specialist referencing teams”

Rebecca Baker, head of referencing

Commenting on the case, Rebecca Baker, head of referencing said: “We’re making some fantastic progression in the utilisation of technology to support the optimisation of our tenant referencing service, which includes the use of Open Banking.

“We still have a high volume of cases where potential tenants can’t or don’t yet want to use Open Banking, so we’re able to bring our letting agent customers the best mix of technology, along with the experience of our specialist referencing teams.

“In this case, the tenant raised no concerns with the agent and the referencing process started as normal. Had this tenant obtained possession of the property there could have been serious consequences for the agent and their customer, the landlord.

“It highlights that the techniques and lengths that people will go to, to defraud letting agents and their landlords, which continues to increase in its sophistication. We pride ourselves on being the frontline for our customers with our professional and high quality service.”

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