FAKE landlords are tricking UK renters out of thousands of pounds with new scams, designed to trick you into thinking you're paying to rent a new flat.

Usually, the scams work by tricking unsuspecting would-be renters into handing over deposits for properties that either do not exist, are already rented, or are being rented out to multiple customers at the same time.

Often, the person behind the scam doesn't even own the property.

These kinds of scams have been on the rise lately, with Action Fraud estimating that £22 million has been lost to rental fraud since April 2014.

On average, victims lose £1,396, however some have reported losing upwards of £5,000.

Now, a new type of rental fraud has come to light, where scammers try to charge potential tenants to view a flat.

Writing in the Financial Times, Claer Barrett, explained how her 22-year-old stepson was contacted by his new landlord asking for a viewing deposit of £400 before he could look round the flat he wanted to rent.

He'd placed an add looking for accommodation on Spareroom.co.uk. The fake landlord. "Julie" said that due to so many cancelled viewings, she was charging a deposit up front, which would be deducted from his first month's rent.

To reassure her that the deal was legitimate, "Julie" sent a scan of her passport across.

However, when Barrett dug deeper to demonstrate the scam to her stepson, worrying details soon emerged. She asked for proof of ownership, to which she was emailed a "certificate of title".

It looked pretty convincing, with a logo, official-looking stamp and a signature. But crucially wasn't issued by the land registry.

Of course, while Barrett - a seasoned financial journalist - knew to look for a land registry document, many renters wouldn't.

A £3 land registry database search soon revealed that the property belonged to someone else entirely, and a follow up email demonstrated that he had no rooms at all to rent.

Other fishy details included the bank account "Julie" asked for the money to be transferred into. She said it was a Barclays account, but an online sort code checker revealed it was a money transfer system.

If the money is transferred to a legitimate Barclays account, the bank can freeze the assets while it investigates. However, if the deposit goes to a money transfer system, it's much tougher to remedy.

Who's most at risk?
While anyone can fall victim to rental scams, Action Fraud has warned that university students and holidaymakers are most at risk.

Fraudsters will often target college and university students ahead of the new term with fake lettings in local accommodation, taking advantage of the huge demand to collect fees up front to secure a deposit.

Between April 2014 and March 2018, there were 930 reports of university-related rental fraud, with losses of £1,103,416. However, the true figure is believed to be higher, as not all victims make their student status known when reporting a crime.

The number of reports peaked each year in September when students are likely to be organising their accommodation for the academic year.

Some 61 per cent of university rental fraud victims reported a ‘significant’ impact on their health or financial wellbeing as a result of being defrauded.

Action Fraud also sees a spike in reporting levels in July and August. This is likely due to people looking for holiday accommodation during the summer months.