I was scammed out my life savings by a fake landlord who targets students
She was forced to pay £2,300 for rent up front
A postgrad was tricked out of her life savings by a housing scam which preys on students.
Chiteisri Devi, 28, travelled from India to London to study a postgrad at UCL and was worried about getting a flat in time.
She paid £2,300 as part of her deposit and three months rent to an agency she found on a flat finding Facebook group.
The Anthropology student was made to wait for 24 hours until the payment went through, but when she arrived she discovered there was no flat.
Chiteisri told The Tab: “At first I was thinking what the hell did I do? How could I be so blind?
“Then I realised it’s a really sophisticated thing, everyone I spoke to was in on the scam.
“They just need to find that one student who is in a very vulnerable condition.”
Chiteisri posted about finding a flat in the “UCL postgraduate and graduate flat finder 2014/15” Facebook group back in July.
Almost instantly she got reply from a woman offering a two bedroom flat in Gower Street, close to the university.
The Anthropology student said: “A week before I was ready to leave, that’s when all the funny stuff started.
“She told me I had to pay all the rent for the three months I would be there up front.
“Until the week before it seemed more or less legit, but back in India I’d be more cautious and never pay for anything without seeing it.
“My experience in London is that nobody has tried to cheat me.”
The landlord had claimed to be out of the country, but Chiteisri was told that if she paid the full amount, a “lawyer” would give her the keys to the flat.
She said: “I waited for those two hours and was told he was on the way so I made another payment.”
But then the scam started to get stranger.
Chiteisri said: “Somebody called and pretended to be a doctor, saying that the lawyer had been in an accident.
“They were very convincing, but by then I was really angry.
“The landlord then told me she was on her way back tomorrow.”
Chiteisri now realises the scammers needed 24 hours for the payment to come through so they could disappear, so the lawyer and doctor storyline was a trick to buy more time.
She said: “The police told me they wanted the money 24 hours ahead so they could then delete their Facebook presence and then they can just disappear – I couldn’t even cancel the bank details.”
Speaking on her mindset at the time, Chiteisri said: “I was in a bit of a mess at that time. My grandfather had died and I’d gone home to India.
“I really wasn’t thinking straight and was right in the middle of my field work, but needed a place to write up my dissertation in London.”
Despite losing her life savings in the scam, she was able to get some money sent from home and received nearly £600 from the UCL hardship fund.
Chiteisri said: “Unfortunately a lot of these adverts keep getting reposted, advertising flats around unis which would be good for students.
“Don’t ever pay for a deposit for what seems to be a flat, without viewing the flat.
“Normally I am not stupid. I’ve lived in India and Singapore alone and have had to rent out places.
“This could really happen to anybody.”
Chiteisri is now finishing her dissertation and has found a flat in Wandsworth with a landlord she knew.
Figures from Action Fraud say more than 300,000 people a year fall victim to rental fraud, losing £775 million.
A spokesperson for Action Fraud said: “Fraudsters use websites. Adverts seem genuine, with photos and contacts.
“Due to demand students often agree to pay upfront fees to secure the property quickly, without viewing — only to discover the fraudster does not own it or there are already tenants there.”