Gardaí in Cork are warning students attending university and third level colleges in the city to be on their guard against accommodation fraud.
The warning follows an incident at the weekend in which a French student moving to study in Cork handed over €3,000 to cover a deposit and two months of rent for a room which wasn't available to rent.
Through social media, the student was put in touch with a man who put himself forward as the landlord of the property.
After speaking with him, she transferred €3,000 to his bank account. When she arrived in Cork she discovered that the man to whom she paid the money wasn't the landlord of the property and there was no room for rent there.
RTÉ News understands that the student has since been accommodated, after making contact with the welfare section of the college she will be attending.
Warning third level students to be on their guard, gardaí in Cork say there have been more than two dozen incidents of accommodation fraud reported to them in the city since the beginning of the year, involving a loss of €60,000.
They say these losses have involved incidents of accommodation fraud domestically, as well as incidents where money has been paid over for accommodation abroad.
They say there were two separate incidents in Cork city whereby students paid out €2,200 and €1,200 as deposits for properties that weren't available to rent. They say another student paid over €2,800 as a deposit for a property where the house had been sold to new owners.
Gardaí say there are what they describe as red flags or warning signs about which students should be wary:
- When the landlord is unable to meet the student or to show the property in person.
- When communication is only through text or social media.
- When the property is offered with no questions asked and payment demanded immediately before signing the lease.
- When the student is asked to pay cash, cryptocurrency or money via a non-bank transfer, such as wire transfer.
Students' union officers at both University College Cork and at Munster Technological University both say incidents of accommodation fraud haven't been reported directly to them this term.
They say if a property looks too good to be true, it generally means it is too good to be true.
They are urging students to not agree to rent a property without first having the opportunity to view it, and not to hand over cash.
President of the Students' Union at Munster Technological University in Cork, Isobel Kavanagh, described the accommodation situation for students in the city as "absolutely chaotic".
She says she is aware of students having to stay in hostels or commuting long distances before they can secure more long-term accommodation.
University College Cork Students' Union Welfare Officer Alannah O'Connor described the accommodation situation as "insane". She says there is accommodation available, but it's very expensive.
She also said she is aware of students staying in hostels while they look for permanent accommodation.