Australia

Experts’ scam warning to vulnerable tenants

House for rent. Real estate sign. Front yard. No people.

Prospective tenants are being urged to look out for rental scams.

South Australians hunting for a rental property are being urged to look out for fake listings after a spike in scams.

Real estate experts say several people have been conned out of hundreds of dollars for bond or a few weeks’ rent by scammers posing as landlords or property managers in recent weeks.

Turner Real Estate chief executive Emma Slape said the scammers were targeting vulnerable people on Facebook marketplace.

She said they were ripping photos and information off real estate websites then telling people they were either busy or lived interstate so could not hand the keys over in person.

The prospective tenants were then told the keys would be posted to them, or left somewhere safe for them to pick up, if they transferred the bond and a few weeks’ rent.

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Property experts say it is important to view a property before transferring money.

“Unfortunately, we are starting to receive calls from distressed tenants who have not realised that the listing they have found on marketplace is a scam,” Ms Slape said.

“I know that a lot of industry colleagues are experiencing the same in scammers replicating rental listings from website portals and then pretending that they are a private landlord to convince unsuspecting tenants into transferring bond and rent to them.

“I’d estimate up to 50 of these are happening a week from the volume we are receiving and from talking to other large agencies. It’s a real concern.”

Ouwens Casserly property management director Adam Blight said it was difficult to break the news to people who had not realised they had fallen victim to scams.

“They haven’t done anything wrong; it’s really hard to monitor,” he said.

“I’ve heard of a full bond being (transferred) but generally it’s a holding deposit.”

He urged prospective tenants to only look for rentals on reputable websites.

“Make sure you inspect any property that you’re going to apply for and before you put down any money, make sure you’re talking to the right person,” Mr Blight said.

A SA Police spokesperson said warning signs included a comparatively low rental price and a short deadline for application.

“This technique is used to rush people into parting with their money before they have an opportunity to take a step back and realise it is a scam,” the spokesperson said.

“Scammers will also often make excuses to avoid meeting in person, often citing medical grounds, family issues and, recently, COVID-19.”

SA Commissioner for Consumer Affairs Dini Soulio said Consumer and Business Services had not received any queries from potential tenants affected by the scams but said the rackets had been around for a while.

“Prospective tenants can protect themselves from these sorts of online scams by doing a little bit of background research and trusting their instincts,” he said.

“If something looks too good to be true, it often is.”

HOW TO AVOID BEING SCAMMED

– Always view a property before you submit an application.

– When applying for a property, consider whether you are applying through a reputable portal or through a structured application form.

– Choose to rent through an agent – as part of agency practices, the agent should be checking the ownership documentation of a property.

– Be wary of anyone asking you simply for your bank account details – a tenancy application should include a range of things such as details of employment, bank statements and formal ID documentation.

– If you’re not sure, don’t transfer funds. Do more research such as googling the property to see if it’s advertised online somewhere else.

– Keep copies of any correspondence.

For more information, visit Scamwatch at www.scamwatch.gov.au

Tenants can always contact Consumer and Business Services on 131 882 for further advice on residential tenancy issues.

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