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Monday, 21 September 2020 10:35

Real estate rental advertising scams fleece renters of their money, warns Scamwatch Featured

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Australians have already lost over $300,000 to rental and accommodation scams this year - an increase of 76% compared to the same time last year - by responding to fake advertisements posted on real estate or classified websites.

The scams target people seeking new rental accommodation by offering fake rental properties to convince people into handing over money or personal information, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch service already receiveing 560 reports of rental scams so far this year, an increase of 56%, with many using tactics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scamwatch says the scams target people seeking new rental accommodation by offering fake rental properties to convince people into handing over money or personal information.

“Scammers are offering reduced rents due to COVID-19 and using the government restrictions to trick people into transferring money without inspecting the property,” ACCC Deputy Commissioner Delia Rickard said.

“The scammer will post advertisements on real estate or classified websites or target people who have posted on social media that they are looking for a room.

“After the victim responds, the scammer will request an upfront deposit to secure the property or phish for personal information through a ‘tenant application form’, promising to provide the keys after the payment or information is provided.”

The ACCC says the scammer may come up with excuses for further payments and the victim often only realises they have been scammed when the keys don’t arrive and the scammer cuts off contact, with “some scammers even impersonating real estate agents and organising fake inspections, victims will then arrive to discover the property doesn’t exist or is currently occupied.”

“The loss of personal information through rental scams is becoming more common, with scammers requesting copies of identity documents such as passports, bank statements or payslips,” Rickard said.

“Once a scammer has your personal information you are at risk of being targeted by further scams or identity theft.

“Many people are also experiencing financial difficulties due to the pandemic and the financial impact of falling victim to a scam can be devastating.”

Scamwatch says that people aged 25-34 reported the most rental scams so far in 2020, and the most reports came from NSW, VIC and the ACT.

And a common rental scam operating in Canberra involves a scammer impersonating a doctor living in Sweden who only offers virtual inspections and then requests bond money.

“Try to view a property in person before paying any bond or rent money to landlords or real estate agents,” Rickard said.

“In areas of Victoria under COVID-19 level 4 restrictions this is not possible, but you can help protect yourself by doing an online search to confirm the property exists and, if dealing with an agent, checking that the agent you are dealing with is licensed.”

“Scammers often rely on email communications to avoid identification, do an independent search for a phone number and speak to the property manager over the phone or arrange a meeting in person.

“Before making any payments ensure you are dealing with the licensed agent, if a scammer has your details they may impersonate a real estate agent and attempt to ‘follow-up’ requesting money after an inspection.”


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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