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We want everyone to enjoy the Olympics without any hiccups, but we also need your help to make sure that happens. Please be aware that as most great occasions, the Olympics sadly also attracts scammers hoping to take advantage. Whilst the vast majority of people are honest, both visitors and homeowners should excercise some caution and get to know eachother.
How We Help Protect You
The Olympics Accommodation Site is a classified listings site rather than a rental agency. Although we take great care to check each ad, we cannot comprehensively reference check each advertiser. However, your safety is very important to us, and we take various measures to prevent fraudsters from advertising or contacting other users.
Whilst the majority of scams will be prevented that way, you also need to undertake your checks when considering an ad or tenant. Here are a few things to keep in mind whilst searching for accommodation on OAS, but also more widely online.
Common Rental Scams
Accommodation scams commonly target individuals online via either fictitious properties or properties the "advertiser" does not have the right to rent out. Such ads often originate from legitimate ads on other websites from where they are copied. Visitors are asked for advance payment, often via money transfer services such Western Union or Moneygram, but never given access to the property.
Homeowners and others renting out a property on the other hand, need to be aware of common cheque payment scams. In these scams the buyer sends payment by cheque, which later bounces. In the meantime, the scammer will find some reason to ask you to refund some of the monies. This could typically be due to a cancelled booking or an "accidental" over-payment.
At times identity fraud accompanies the rental fraud and therefore personal details, such as photographic identification should only be provided once a reasonable level of trust has been established.
Ways to Stay Safe
Get to know eachother. Whether you want to rent directly from a private individual or via an agent depends on your preferences. What is important in both cases, is to establish who the other person or company is, and whether they have the right to rent out that property.
If the other party is a commercial entity, it’s generally very easy to find out more about them online. If you are using an agent, check that they are registered with a local professional body.
Check Reputation Online
An initial search online can quickly establish whether you should pursue your discussions. The vast majority of property agents have a website and some property owners also setup brochure sites for their property.
Search using the other party's name and email address. For opinions, search the web using the company name and the word “review”. Also search for any listings on scam reporting sites using the name or company name and the word “scam”. Additional searches should be made on the address, as well as the exact ad title, and where appropriate, company web address.
Verify Their Identity
Please remember that scammers may not only pose as legitimate estate agents or individuals, but may even pretend to be another person. For example, someone might pose as an employee of a well-recognised estate agency by impersonating that person online.
If you are dealing with a business, call the office landline, as advertised on their website, to speak to them again. Ask the other person who they work for and if possible, request to correspond via their work email address at least once for verification.
If you are in any doubt that a company exists, check your local business register. In the UK, you can search Companies House, the official UK business register.
Online social networking sites, such as Facebook.com or LinkedIn.com can also help. Given their popularity and extensive identity verification measures, Facebook and LinkedIn can be great ways to verify an individual’s identity. Asking to, at least temporarily, connect for this purpose shouldn’t be too much to ask. Beyond that you may also genuinely make a new friend.
If their profile looks like an average profile, with at least some friends, activity, maybe some pictures, and hasn’t been setup too recently, there is a good chance that person is who they say they are. However please remember, not everyone is on Facebook or LinkedIn, and just because someone isn’t, doesn’t mean they’re hiding something.
Towards the final stages of your negotiation, once sufficient trust is established, you can exchange photographic identification and request a utility bill showing name and address.
Check The Property
Check the address truly exists and whether it matches the property advertised. Although all ads on OAS are mapped, you should independently re-check the address on Google maps. You can conveniently do this from the ad details pages by clicking the “open in big map” link next to the map.
Depending on your location you can also use Google maps “street view” feature to have a look at the property from outside, to check it matches the ad.
If dealing with an agent, and you are satisfied of their legitimacy, you probably don’t need to verify that they can rent out the accommodation in question.
For individuals however, you could ask for additional photos of the property, including one taken of the entrance with the door wide open to ensure they have access to the property, and one with them inside it.
In both cases, ask for, or volunteer a copy of the the tenancy agreement or rental contract that you will be signing.
Speak on the phone and make sure to ask some further questions about the area that you can verify, such as nearby landmarks, schools, etc.
If possible, arrange to meet eachother and view the accommodation or send a friend. If meeting to view the property, try to meet during the day and outside the property. Take a friend, or let them know where you're going and at what time you expect to finish. Agree that you will call at that time and if you don't, you're friend should try to call you a few minutes later.
If you are dealing with the owner, you can also verify their ownership of the property by searching your local land or property registry.
In the UK you can search the Land Registry website for a charge of £4.
You can also find out more about safety in the area by searching online. In the UK you can look up local crime statistics on the UK Police website. Although the Olympics is a special event and will be policed very heavily, such statistics can give you a feel for an area.
Never accept cheques as a method of payment, and never pay via instant money transfer. It is the scammers preferred means of getting paid as there is little traceability nor recourse.
If dealing with a business you may wish to pay via credit card as it offers some protection, depending on the country and credit card company. Online payment providers such as paypal will in some cases also provide some form of buyer protection.
You can also agree to use an escrow service, such as escrow.com. If using an escrow service, use a reputable company and research it online first.
If paying online, pay using a secure website. On the page where the payment takes place, check thathe beginning of the web address in your browser reads https://thesite.com instead of http://thesite.com and you can see the little padlock icon in your browser.
Providing banking or credit card details over the phone or by email is not advisable, particularly if they ask you for the last 3 digits on the back of your card.
Common Warning Signs
If you notice any of the following, please beware. If no reasonable explanation emerges, please notify our team by reporting the ad.
Make It Easier
Most of us aren't used to this kind of process, and it might feel a little daunting or uncomfortable for some. However, it need not be if both parties are fully aware of eachother's expectations as well as needs for reassurance. Here are a few things you can do to make the process easier.
Reporting Suspicious Activity
If you notice any suspicious activity on our website or in your dealings with the other party, please report it to us as soon as possible. We will immediately start monitoring activity, and where warranted, unpublish related pages. To report an ad, please use the "report ad" link available at the bottom of each accommodation ad.
The official site for the London 2012 Olympics has a staying safe online page that provides more general advice and lists known scams.
"A joint initiative between the Government, law enforcement, leading businesses and the public sector. Our aim is to provide computer users and small businesses with free, independent, user-friendly advice that will allow them to use the internet confidently, safely and securely."
"Action Fraud is the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre. We provide a central point of contact for information about fraud and financially motivated internet crime. If you've been scammed, ripped off or conned, there is something you can do about it - get in touch with us."
"Enter your postcode, town, village or street into the search box below, and get instant access to street-level crime maps and data, as well as details of your local policing team and beat meetings."