A WEST Cork family is warning parents and students to be extra vigilant when securing third level accommodation, after they were involved in a sophisticated scam.
The family, from Drimoleague, said they had paid out almost â¬1,500 for an non-existent apartment in Dublin in what they believe was a sophisticated rental fraud.
Charlotte Kershaw, a second year student of Dental Technology at Trinity College Dublin, is now without a place to stay in Dublin, before her new term commences this month. She is believed to be one of hundreds of students caught out in recent weeks after a spike in these crimes.
Speaking to The Southern Star, Charlotte's father Simon said they were devastated by the scam and want to warn others about the pitfalls out there.
âWith rental properties so scarce, Charlotte found a property via the DIT Facebook page. We were unable to view the property and viewed it online, and got Charlotte to question the landlord,' said Simon.
âWe were told that the previous tenant had moved back to Cork and she was even given a Facebook profile of this person to make contact with and to ask questions. Charlotte also conversed with a student from overseas who would be taking the second room in the apartment and it all seemed above board.'
However, their suspicions were raised when the landlord requested a deposit of â¬550 to be paid to Western Union because he was overseas.
âCharlotte told him that wasn't possible and that we would only pay through a bank transfer. He then gave his bank account details with NatWest Bank in the UK and we made payment on July 20th after we confirmed it was a genuine branch.'
Once the transfer was made, a contract was sent electronically to Charlotte to sign and she was told the keys would sent by courier because of the landlord's absence.
âWhile we were abroad, Charlotte was told that the landlord had double-booked the accommodation and said he could refund her deposit or she could secure the apartment if she paid four months' rent in advance. We were becoming more dubious that it could be a scam but then details of the courier delivering us the keys were sent to us and the pressure to find accommodation was overwhelming,' added Simon.
The Kershaws managed to negotiate two months' advance rent of â¬900 which was paid into the landlord's account. They knew that if it was a scam they would have leverage over the bank to refund and investigate.
âThe keys have not been sent and all contact with the supposed landlord has been discontinued and also contact with the former tenant and with the overseas student has ceased.'
The Kershaws have reported the matter to both Charlotte's Irish bank and their own UK bank and both are investigating the matter.
If the landlord's account is empty â as Simon suspects â they will be forced to sue his bank.
To add insult to injury, Simon said the âfake' landlord is still offering the same apartment for rent, and they have passed these details onto gardaÃ.
âWe are very embarrassed to have been caught out in such a way, but we were becoming increasingly desperate to secure affordable accommodation in Dublin for Charlotte,' added Simon.
As gardaÃ issued a strong statement about a major hike in rental fraud this week, Charlotte said the scams are continuing.
Out of 30-plus apartments that she applied for over a 48-hour period, 10 were scams and she was approached by eight others, all scams.Â
Â âCaution is advised,' said a garda spokesperson, âif the rent sounds too good to be true.'
Students' Union (USI) president Michael Kerrigan said: âIt's a shame that people are taking advantage of students like this.'
The issue of rental scam was also raised at a recent meeting of Cork city and county Joint Policing Committee (JPC), where Supt Ger Dillane of Cork North Division warned parents and students to be aware.