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Friends lose €2,600 in rental property scam

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Amy Gibbons and two friends were delighted last week when they found a listing on a property website for a house in Galway city that looked pretty decent. It was within their price range and they were even more relieved when the landlord made contact and confirmed the house was still available to rent.

But their delight and relief turned to dismay and horror within 48 hours after they handed over more than €2,500 to secure the property only to find out they had fallen victim to an elaborate scam.

They are not the only ones to have suffered at the hands of scam artists exploiting the housing crisis and others appear to have been conned by criminals who have been advertising multiple bogus properties on legitimate websites.

The scam artists use pictures of properties pulled indiscriminately from the internet as bait and are also relying on Covid-19 restrictions to lend legitimacy to their crimes.

“The lease on our house is up so we were looking for somewhere to live for the start of June,” Gibbons says.

“We saw this house and made contact with the landlord. He told us the house was still available and suggested we talk through the details on WhatsApp and we said ‘sound’ ”.

Over WhatsApp messages they were asked for details of where they worked, proof of earnings and ID – all things which are commonly asked of prospective tenants.

“We gave all our details and that was that,” Gibbons says. “We have to move out of our house this weekend so we were very relieved to have found somewhere to live.”

The landlord identifying himself as “Lauren O’Sullivan” explained that while he owned the house in Galway, he could not show it to them in person because he was abroad and could not travel to Ireland as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

“He said that to make the transaction more secure for them and us, we could carry out the transaction on Airbnb. I have done long term rentals on Airbnb before so I thought it was fine.

“The landlord sent a link through WhatsApp and gave us 24 hours to pay the deposit. They kept saying ‘you need to do it now’ but we didn’t think much of him pressing for time, properties are hard to get, so that was fine.”

It was a long way from fine.

‘Getting too messy’

Gibbons and her friends followed the link the landlord had sent and reserved the property. “I don’t know how we missed this but once we had reserved it on the site we got a booking form and details of a bank account to send the money to. We were directed off what we thought was the Airbnb site.”

The friends sent the money to the account, a total of €2,656.

“Then we got a message saying Airbnb had changed the Iban by mistake and we would need to send the money again. I said no as it was getting too messy. I said we would not resend the money until the original money was refunded. That is when the alarm bells started ringing.”

Gibbons asked to see the communication from Airbnb about the changed Iban number but that request was ignored. Instead she was sent a link by the supposed landlord to what the landlord said was an Airbnb chat function.

The link led not to Airbnb but to a bogus site which had been dressed up to look like Airbnb. “We were trying not to believe we had been scammed but the person on the chat was saying exactly the same thing as the landlord and their English wasn’t great,” she continues.

They made contact with Airbnb who confirmed almost immediately that the site they had been directed to was fake. “We were told to contact our bank. Then the bank told us to contact the guards.”

Before doing that, they decided to swing by the house they thought they had rented.

“It was in Renmore near GMIT. So we called out to see if the people in the house knew ‘Lauren O’Sullivan’. A woman answered and said she had been living there for two years and didn’t know ‘Lauren O’Sullivan’. She actually owned the house and lived there with her family. She had absolutely no idea what we were talking about.”

A Google search of the name and number used by the scam artist reveals that Gibbons and her friends are not the only people who have been duped by the individuals behind the criminal enterprise.

Exploitation

Social media platforms and forums contain multiple references to the same name and number although the locations of the supposed properties changed.

Scams involving rental properties are not new.

Typically they seek to take advantage of students and exploit the Irish housing crisis and a scarcity of properties to convince people to agree to leases online before actually viewing properties.

Money is either transferred via an electronic transfer network such as Western Union or deposited in so-called mule accounts unconnected to the criminals before being transferred to accounts overseas.

Given the cross-border nature of the activity and the anonymity of the criminals, it is very hard for law enforcement, either in this country or others to apprehend those behind the crime.

Gardaí and multiple housing bodies have repeatedly warned people never to hand over money without actually seeing a property and to always be cautious of landlords who claim to be outside the country and cannot show you the property but still request a deposit.

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Social Democrats activists consider deferring request on leadership contest

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A group of Social Democrats activists who want to see a leadership election in the party is looking at deferring their request to consider such a contest until after a new general secretary is appointed to the party.

A draft letter to the party’s national executive, signed by two councillors and 14 others, seeking the leadership contest emerged on Friday evening.

The letter, which has not been sent to party authorities, requested the national executive meet to hold a vote to call a leadership election.

It pays tribute to the party’s current co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall, who it states “have done exceptional work”, but adds that “it is now time to move to the next stage”.

The party released a statement later the same evening saying its TDs are “united behind co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall”. This statement was shared on Twitter by all six of the party’s Dáil Deputies.

One of the councillors who signed the draft letter, Kildare representative Chris Pender, responded with his own social media post saying: “Anyone who’s read the letter will know it states we don’t have an issue with the leaders, but we believe in the democratic right to vote for that/those leaders.

“A leadership contest would give members the opportunity to show support for the current leaders, if that’s what they want.”

Cllr Cat O’Driscoll, who sits on Dublin City Council, was the other public representative who signed the draft letter.

Motivations

Sources insisted the motivations behind seeking a contest include giving the Social Democrats’ membership a say in who leads the party, as well as an issue of timing. They say with no general election expected imminently, it would give the next leader time to prepare.

It was also revealed on Friday that Brian Sheehan, a former director of the Yes Equality campaign, is to step down from his role as Social Democrats general secretary in early September. The decision is not connected with the call for a leadership election and those behind the draft letter were unaware of Mr Sheehan’s decision to leave the job.

However, it has prompted a rethink of the request for a leadership contest.

The Irish Times understands the activists are considering a new version of the letter that takes Mr Sheehan’s departure into account and would not seek a discussion about a leadership contest until after his successor is in place and has had some time in the job. A source suggested the approach with any new letter would be “a bit more cautious”.

On Monday, a party spokeswoman ruled out any contest for the leadership, either before or after the appointment of a new general secretary.

“The rules of the party state any leader must be a TD and all of our TDs are united in their support for the party leadership. The general secretary position is entirely unrelated to the party leadership,” she said.

Ms Murphy and Ms Shortall have jointly led the Social Democrats since its establishment in 2015.


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Instagrammer captures abandoned Welsh property in series of eerie photographs

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Who would live in a house like this? Instagrammer photographs abandoned Welsh property – complete with a bottle of Champagne for ‘Grandad’s’ 90th birthday, dishes still in the sink and a newspaper dating back to 1956

  • Photographs reveal the rooms have been untouched for decades and house opened bottle of Champagne  
  • Discovery was made by Instagrammer Kyle Urbex while exploring the countryside in Flintshire, North Wales 
  • Kyle said: ‘Overall the whole exploration just left me wondering the whole backstory’ 
  • ***Do YOU know who lived in the abandoned house? Contact izzy.nikolic@mailonline.co.uk*** 

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An abandoned Welsh house has been captured in a series of eerie photographs complete with a bottle of Champagne for ‘Grandad’s’ 90th birthday and dishes still in the sink.  

Photographs reveal rooms that have been untouched for decades and reveal a bottle of bubbly with a sticker which reads: ‘Happy 90th Birthday. Sorry I can’t be there to drink this with you! Lots of love James xxx.’  

The property has been dubbed ‘Granddad’s abandoned house’ after it was discovered tucked away in the woods. 

A piano can also be seen with sheet music still in place along with clothes hanging up and dishes still in the sink.

Photographs reveal rooms that have been untouched for decades and reveal a bottle of bubbly with a sticker which reads: 'Happy 90th Birthday. Sorry I can't be there to drink this with you! Lots of love James xxx'

Pictured: A piano can also be seen with sheet music still in place along with clothes hanging up

Photographs reveal rooms that have been untouched for decades and reveal a bottle of bubbly with a sticker which reads: ‘Happy 90th Birthday. Sorry I can’t be there to drink this with you! Lots of love James xxx’

The property has been dubbed 'Granddad's abandoned house' after it was discovered tucked away in the woods. Pictured: The exterior of the property

The property has been dubbed ‘Granddad’s abandoned house’ after it was discovered tucked away in the woods. Pictured: The exterior of the property 

Random debris including a broken bicycle, piping, empty tins and folding tables and chairs were left strewn throughout the house

The discovery was made by Instagrammer Kyle Urbex (pictured) while he was exploring the countryside in Flintshire, North Wales

Random debris including a broken bicycle, piping, empty tins and folding tables and chairs were left strewn throughout the house

Mr Urbex said: 'I visited the property just over four weeks ago and getting to the actual location wasn't too bad, just a walk up a small hill and the door was wide open'

Mr Urbex said: ‘I visited the property just over four weeks ago and getting to the actual location wasn’t too bad, just a walk up a small hill and the door was wide open’

The discovery was made by Instagrammer Kyle Urbex while he was exploring the countryside in Flintshire, North Wales.

Kyle also spotted a newspaper dating back to 1956 in what he believes was once someone’s ‘dream family home.’

He said: ‘I visited the property just over four weeks ago and getting to the actual location wasn’t too bad, just a walk up a small hill and the door was wide open.

‘Once inside I instantly saw the whole location was eerie because it was a house full to the brim of memories, ranging from clothes in the bedroom to old decaying pianos which once may have entertained many.

‘The porch area had been trashed, however the seating still remained intact and of course the champagne bottle for his 90th birthday still left on the fireplace.

He added: 'Once inside I instantly saw the whole location was eerie because it was a house full to the brim of memories, ranging from clothes in the bedroom to old decaying pianos which once may have entertained many'

Dishes are left undone in the sink in the kitchen

He added: ‘Once inside I instantly saw the whole location was eerie because it was a house full to the brim of memories, ranging from clothes in the bedroom to old decaying pianos which once may have entertained many’

Kyle says he has now been left wondering about the story behind the house. He added: ‘While the place appears to have been ransacked by vandals, clothes still hang in wardrobes; one of the few signs of the home it once was’

Kyle also spotted a newspaper dating back to 1956 in what he believes was once someone's 'dream family home'

Kyle also spotted a newspaper dating back to 1956 in what he believes was once someone’s ‘dream family home’

Mr Urbex added: 'Overall the whole exploration just left me wondering the whole backstory and how somebody could just leave so much memories and cherished possessions behind'

Mr Urbex added: ‘Overall the whole exploration just left me wondering the whole backstory and how somebody could just leave so much memories and cherished possessions behind’

‘I found it quite sad really given all the memories just left to be forgotten about. As well as the house there was a caravan hidden at the back in all the overgrowth which had more memories inside, old books and so on.

‘I managed to uncover an old bike in the shed which looked like it had been there quite a while.

‘Alongside all of these findings I came across a newspaper dated from November 3 1956.’

Kyle says he has now been left wondering about the story behind the house.

He added: ‘While the place appears to have been ransacked by vandals, clothes still hang in wardrobes; one of the few signs of the home it once was.

‘Overall the whole exploration just left me wondering the whole backstory and how somebody could just leave so much memories and cherished possessions behind.’

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Foley to bring school reopening plan to Cabinet on Tuesday

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Minister for Education Norma Foley says she has every confidence schools will reopen fully from late August and early September.

Ms Foley said there was ongoing engagement between her department and public health officials on the matter but all schools were set to reopen.

Strong mitigation measures would be in place in schools to ensure that they would continue to be controlled environments, she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show on Monday.

Covid-19 infection rates among children were at their highest when children were not at school and public health experts had pointed out “on a consistent basis to schools being a very significantly controlled environment”.

The safe operation of the Leaving Certificate exams and enhanced summer camps indicated that the safe operation of education could be maintained, she said.

A plan would be put in place to allow schools to “draw down” CO2 monitors and the Minister said she was confident there would be enough monitors for all schools by the start of the new school year.

In relation to Covid-19 vaccines for children, Ms Foley said the “expertise” lay with the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) from which her department would take guidance.

“I have received confirmation that the 16 to 18-year-old cohort should be in a position for online registration in the coming days, and I have been advised that the 15-year-olds cohort are still being considered by NIAC and there has been no definitive timeline given,” she added.

Ms Foley will bring a plan to Cabinet on Tuesday outlining enhanced public information campaigns, the outcome of antigen testing pilots, and the purchase of C02 monitors to assist in ventilating classrooms.

Capacity limits on school transport services will also remain in place.

Government sources were adamant on Sunday that second-level education would resume in the autumn, despite concerns among public-health officials that the wave could grow following the reopening of indoor dining today, before peaking in September.

“Schools will reopen,” a senior Coalition source said.

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