Q I am starting college in Dublin soon and need to find somewhere to live during the college term. A friend of mine lost her deposit last year as she was the victim of a scam. Have you any advice to help make sure something similar doesn‘t happen to me? Alan, Monaghan

Scammers see the pressure on students to find accommodation as an opportunity to try and con them. Here are some warning signs to be aware of when you begin your property search.

One of the most common scams is where the scammer copies listings of actual available rentals and re-advertises them with their own email or phone number. The scammer may refuse to show you the home, saying they are out of the country – but may send you photos and fake documents or keys in exchange for payment of rent and deposit. You may not realise you have been scammed until you show up at the property and find someone else living in it. Be wary of anyone willing to rent you a property without you viewing it first.

Another scam is when the scammer rents a home themselves for a short period of time. They then advertise the home as being available for rent and show potential tenants around the house while they live there. They will agree to rent the house to you, look to collect the deposit along with the first month‘s rent – and then disappear with your money. Again, you may not know you have been scammed until you‘re unable to access the property you viewed and the scammer is no longer able. Also, watch out for incorrect details and phone numbers – for example an email address which bounces, or the phone ringing out.

A good starting point is to research a number of rental properties in your desired area so that you have an idea of the average prices being charged. If the rent seems unusually low, this is a warning sign of a potential scam.

It is also very important to carry out a number of checks before handing over any money. View the property inside and out and make sure you are happy with its condition before you agree to anything. It might be a good idea to bring a friend or family member with you – it can be useful to get a second opinion, especially if this is your first time renting.

Paying by card is one of the most secure ways to pay. If something goes wrong, you may be able to get a refund of the money lost by your card provider through a chargeback. Paying by cheque or bank draft can also ensure that your money is traceable. If you pay cash to secure a property and it turns out you have been scammed, you will have little comeback. Always get a receipt for any payments you make and keep them safe. Don‘t transfer any money online unless you have carried out all the checks described above and you are absolutely sure that the listing is genuine.

Missing receipt

Q I recently bought a pair of sandals in a high-street shop but they ripped a few weeks later. I paid cash and unfortunately I lost my receipt. When I tried to return the sandals to get a replacement, the shop said it could not help me as I have no proof of purchase. Can they get away with this?
Sandra, Clondalkin, Dublin 22

When you buy from a shop, you are protected by consumer legislation. The item you buy should be of an acceptable standard, fit for the purpose intended and as described. If you bought something that turns out to be faulty, you have a number of options depending on the problem. These options include a repair, replacement, reduction in the price, or a full refund. It is up to you to negotiate your preferred option with the retailer.

However, the retailer is entitled to look for proof that you purchased the sandals in their shop. Typically this can be a till receipt, debit or credit card statement. If the shop insists that you have proof of purchase and you cannot produce the receipt, then it is very unlikely you will get a replacement pair of sandals or any of the options outlined above. If the sandals are a brand which is exclusive to that shop or if you still have the box that may contain a barcode unique to the shop, return these to the shop and ask to speak to the manager. It may help the shop confirm that you did buy the shoes at their store and may support your complaint.

Damage at dry-cleaners

Q I got my wedding dress dry-cleaned and paid €150 for the service. When I was hanging up the dress at home after I collected it, I noticed some of the beading had fallen off and the lace was ripped. What recourse do I have with the dry cleaner?
Aoife, Co Wicklow

Under consumer legislation, when you pay for a service, the business should carry out the service with proper care and attention, have the appropriate skills to do the job, and use materials that are sound and fit for their purpose. Furthermore, any goods they supply to you as part of the service should be of an acceptable quality. If you feel that the dry-cleaner didn‘t carry out the service with the proper care and attention, you should it looking for it to repair the dress or give you a full or partial refund. The dry-cleaner may argue that the damage you spotted is due to a manufacturing fault by the company which made the wedding dress – in which case you would need to return the dress to whoever sold it and seek the refund or repair from them.

If you are unclear about where the fault lies and you cannot get a satisfactory solution, another option is to take both the dry cleaner and the seller of the dress to the Small Claims Court.

You can also take them individually. In this instance, it is important that you claim for not only the cost of the cleaning service but also the original cost of the wedding dress (consequential loss) -as you believe you are at a financial loss because of a direct fault with the service. Remember to include this in your Small Claims application. You can also the Small Claims registrar in the local District Court before you submit your application to check if it will accept your case.

Switching mortgage

Q I am coming to the end of a five-year fixed-rate mortgage, which has prompted me to think about switching my mortgage. The banks seem to offering plenty of incentives to get people to switch. What should I focus on to make sure I get the best deal?
Caroline, Co Donegal

When you start to look at different options for switching your mortgage, you‘ll see that most lenders have special offers to encourage you to move your mortgage to them. These can include a percentage of the value of your mortgage back in cash either as a lump sum and/or a regular payment into your current account, paying all or part of your legal or valuation fees, or offering to pay your home or mortgage protection insurance for a period of time.

Cashback offers are attractive because they give you money in the short term. However, they might not make financial sense in the long term if you look at how much the mortgage will cost you overall. Look at the overall cost of your mortgage. Don‘t let the short-term gain dazzle you – the interest rate is what actually determines your monthly repayments and how much you spend on your mortgage altogether. When you‘re switching mortgages, be sure to compare the mortgage interest rates out there.

Aine Carroll is director of communications and policy with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (ccpc.ie)

Sunday Indo Business