Tenants have lost more than £22 million to fake landlords and other rental fraudsters since 2014, official figures show.
Between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2018, 18,645 reports of rental scams were made to Action Fraud meaning that victims lost an average of £1,396 each.
Action Fraud is now warning potential tenants, and students in particular, to spot the signs of rental fraud when searching for a property.
Rental fraud happens when prospective tenants are tricked into paying an upfront fee to rent a property.
In reality, the property does not exist, has already been rented out, or has been rented to multiple victims at the same time, the official crime reporting body warns.
Victims will lose the upfront fee they have paid and are not able to rent the property they thought they had secured.
In 429 cases, victims reported losing £5,000 or more.
Fraudsters will often make contact with their victims online.
The adverts will seem genuine and are often accompanied by photos and contact information.
In some cases the victim will view the property in person, but in most cases the payment is made without prior viewing.
Action Fraud says it usually sees a spike in reporting levels in July and August.
This yearly peak is likely due to people looking for holiday accommodation during the summer months, with holiday fraud accounting for approximately 27 per cent of all rental fraud reports during this period.
Another variation is university rental fraud.
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 in order to collect fees up front to secure a deposit.
Between April 2014 and March 2018, 930 reports of university-related rental fraud, with losses of over £1m, were made to Action Fraud.
However, the true figure is believed to be higher, as the figure is dependent on victims making their student status known when reporting to Action Fraud.
The number of reports peaked each year in September when students are likely to be organising their accommodation for the academic year. More than 60 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 director Pauline Smith says: “Whether you’re booking a well-earned holiday or looking to secure university accommodation, it is important to be wary of devious fraudsters who are looking to take your money.
“The impact of rental fraud can be severe, both emotionally and financially. By taking simple steps such as visiting the property you intend to rent or checking that the owner is on an approved accommodation list, you will be able to protect yourself from this type of fraud.
“If you think you have been a victim of rental fraud, contact Action Fraud.”