Scammers
The pandemic and a hot rental market has attracted scammers. Image – Canva.
  • A sad phenomenon of the pandemic has been the rise in rental scams
  • Over 560 scams were reported in 2020, with people losing more than $300K
  • There are variety of things renters can do to protect themselves

Last September, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued a warning about an upsurge in reported rental scams.

Often seen in a hot market, with few rentals around, scammers prey on unsuspecting prospective tenants posing as property managers or landlords. They advertise fake rental properties, often at reduced prices, to lure interest. They then take deposits off the applicants, saying this will guarantee them the property, only to disappear.

The property is not for rent at all. The scammer has found it on the net and advertised it as a vacant rental.

In some cases, they even pose in person outside the property, with official-looking forms, signing up tenants and taking bond money right there and then. In many cases in 2020, the ‘property manager’ has used the pandemic as cover to conduct ‘virtual inspections only’, taking deposits and promising the keys in the next 24 hours. The keys never arrive.

More than 560 such scams were reported to Scamwatch last year, and news that they are on the rise began hitting police departments. Various warnings have been put out in NSW, Victoria and WA.

Losses have been estimated at $300,000, an increase of 76% on the same time the year before.

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

“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.”

Delia Rickard, ACCC Deputy Commissioner

Once the scammer has personal information, then targets are at risk of being targeted by further scams or identity theft.

Avoid the con

Be very suspicious of low rental prices, well below market levels for that property. Check the rent offered for similar listings on all the main property websites. If it sounds good to be true, it probably is.

For any prospective tenant, be sure that the listing is genuine by checking the credentials of the agency. Agencies have to be licensed in their state.

View the property in person. If this is not possible due to restrictions, then check online that the property is for rent on various websites, with that official agency.

Be wary if the property is for rent privately, and the owner of the property is the person you are communicating with, especially if they are overseas.

Be especially careful if everything is being transacted online, and by email. Scammers nearly always use these methods, often exclusively. If you are asked for some kind of upfront fee, you are probably dealing with a scam. Almost never do legitimate property managers or landlords ask for money before anything else happens.

Potential renters can contact their state consumer protection agency for information on bond requirements and tenants’ rights in their state.

Ask questions around where the bond is being lodged, and who will be doing the property inspections and on what basis. Bonafide landlords and property managers will know all this in detail.

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If you are aware of any scams, please report to Scamwatch.gov.au (run by the ACCC) or call 1300 302 502.

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