After a one-day rental, the Airbnb property looked in perfect condition.  

What the property’s owner did not expect was a phone call from a would-be tenant who was in possession of a lease agreement signed to his name. 

As John Smith* would find out, the guest had used their one-day stay in his Glasgow flat to host property viewings with prospective renters. 

The fraudster swindled at least three separate desperate tenants out of £1100 deposits for an apartment he did not own. 

All seemingly arranged in advance of the booking in early September, the guest advertised the Finnieston property on Facebook Marketplace and then moved quickly to seal the succession of fraudulent deals.  

The case reflects a growing rental crisis that is particularly acute in Glasgow, where staggering demand for private rental properties has seen renters struggle to secure accommodation. 

As well as scammers now taking advantage of the situation, concerns have been raised over bidding wars, students forced to stay in Airbnbs and the crisis affecting potential skilled foreign workers. 

“I was actually in Italy at the time, and I got a call on the Sunday from someone who had been given all my details,” Mr Smith said.  

“They had my name, they had a tenancy agreement signed up with my name, the photo from my Airbnb profile and they had paid this person £1100. I was obviously pretty shocked.” 

He added: “I am assuming they had listed it in advance of the Monday because there were viewings taking place on that day.” 

'Be very careful'

One of the victims of the fraud informed him “there were at least six or seven other people in the property while he was viewing it”.  

The scammer has also created a false email account using the Airbnb owner’s name.  

Mr Smith said the use of his details was “unnerving” but expressed more sympathy for the three known victims of the fraud.  

He said: “The first guy, in particular, was absolutely heartbroken. I guess it’s not just the money.  

“It’s the fact that obviously the housing situation in Glasgow in terms of long term lets is pretty tight. 

“These people think they have found somewhere to stay for six months and then it is ripped away from them.”  

HeraldScotland: A general view of Argyle street in the Finnieston area of Glasgow’s West End looking West from the city centre A general view of Argyle street in the Finnieston area of Glasgow’s West End looking West from the city centre (Image: NQ, Jamie Simpson)

Read more: 
Bidding wars and blanket bans: Students told to not enrol amid renting crisis

After he was contacted by the first duped tenant, the incident was reported to the police which made it easier to break the news to the following two victims.  

One of them had even moved up from England, Mr Smith added: “He moved up here just to live in this property and now he has nowhere to stay.” 

He issued a warning to others who have been attempting to find a flat to rent and said: “The agreement that they signed looked completely official, so I think that is why people have been duped into it.  

“My message to people is just if you’re signing up to a property and are not going through a registered letting agent, then be very careful.”  

Housing spokesperson for Citizen’s Advice Scotland, Aoife Deery, advised renters check if a prospective landlord is registered with the local authority. 

 She said: “We are very concerned at reports of fraudulent renting, especially at a time where we know many people are struggling with the cost of renting.  

“This is a very difficult situation for tenants, but they can seek proof such as checking that their prospective landlord is registered with their local authority and reporting this activity immediately to Police Scotland.  

“We would encourage people to contact their local Citizens Advice bureau for free, impartial and confidential advice if they feel that something is amiss, or indeed have been a victim of this type of scam.” 

The issue comes amid soaring demand for rented properties in Scotland. In the past three years the number of properties available for rent north of the border that are being marketed on Rightmove and Zoopla has dropped by 41.9 per cent, recent research from Ocasa showed. 

'Worse than I have ever seen it'

The Herald previously reported students were told to think twice before enrolling in their course due to a lack of housing.  

Louise Gorse, 23, had spent three months looking for a property across and told of flats going to tenants who could offer to pay more or pay three months in advance.  

“It seems very wrong,” she said. “You’re being outbid and sometimes this is without even viewing the flat.” 

A concerned father, Sushil Gupta, said his daughter had been living in an Airbnb after moving to Glasgow from India for university. 

“Immediate action from the governing bodies is required to control the situation,” he said as he warned of skyrocketing rent as students arrived in the city in September.  

However, it is not just students who are affected by the rental crisis.  

The chairman of a firm which provides relocation services for businesses and their employees, Locators Scotland, said the lack of available properties could see companies “looking elsewhere”. 

Bob Stocker has worked on bringing in skilled labour for over 30 years, yet the current housing market poses new challenges.  

“It’s worse than I have ever seen it,” he said of the rental market.  

“It's been very, very stressful for some of these senior people who have had children are moving here and finding that there's hardly any properties available on the market.” 

While they have been able to secure accommodation for all their clients, he worried fewer vital skilled workers will be drawn to Scotland. 

The business has also been trying to assist others where possible, including a young doctor from Melbourne.  

“I got a call from one mother who told me that her daughter, who was a junior doctor, was in Glasgow and she just couldn’t get accommodation,” Mr Stocker said.  

“She was staying in temporary Airbnbs, which were costing a lot of money, and was moving around week to week. 

“I could sense she was really concerned about her.” 

In this case they managed to find a property for the junior doctor, but he added: “You can sense the strain they are under. 

“I have had a lot of experience both with my colleagues in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Aberdeen to certain extent, that those who are planning to come here are getting terribly worried about the lack of available properties.” 

Airbnb confirmed the fraudster guest has been banned from the platform. 

A spokesperson said: “We have zero tolerance for bad actors, and have banned this individual from the platform and are assisting Police Scotland with their enquiries.

"We deploy strict measures and policies to protect our community, and take actions on issues brought to our attention.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “On Sunday, 11 September, we received a report relating to rental fraud in Glasgow. Enquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances.” 

*The name was changed for the Airbnb owner who preferred to remain anonymous.