Scammers pirating legitimate rental home ads for fraudulent listings

WA ScamNet at Consumer Protection reported that it had received 40 reports of rental scams to date, with 21 victims losing a total of $41,000.


The alarming figures are higher compared to last year when 48 reports of similar scams left 18 victims $32,320 out of pocket.

According to the watchdog, scammers are using social media accounts to post fake "to-let ads”, which, unfortunately, desperate people are responding to.

But given the current state of Western Australia’s rental market, it’s easy to understand where the despondency among potential renters is coming from.

The latest data from the Real Estate Institute for Western Australia (REIWA) showed that vacancy rates across the state in July range from 1 percent to as low as zero percent, a far cry from the 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent vacancy rate that the institute deemed to be a balanced rental market.

WA ScamNet revealed that many of the victims respond to fake social media ads and are pressured into making hasty decisions, which often results in transferring money to secure a rental property without carrying out proper checks.

It added that transactions carried out through instant messages, email, or text could provide a blanket of anonymity to scammers, allowing them to provide false information.

To lower the chance of ads for legitimate rental homes being used for rental scams, Consumer Protection advised private landlords, real estate agents, and property managers to take measures to protect their intellectual property, namely their photos.

"While there is a widespread industry practice of watermarking photos of homes for rent, this appears to be used more as a marketing exercise than a cybersecurity measure,” Penny Lipscombe, Consumer Protection acting executive director, said.

But she noted that watermarking might deter scammers from using legitimate photos in a fake ad and encouraged all property owners and managers to adopt the practice.

She also offered another solution to prevent scammers from picture snatching. "Better still, explore the option of blocking the photos from being downloaded from websites you use to market your properties which would also serve as a fraud deterrent,” she said.

For prospective tenants, WA ScamNet reminded practising caution when posting an ad, as scammers may also take advantage by responding.

Prospective tenants are also advised to schedule a face-to-face meeting with the owner or their agent and not accept any excuses for them not being able to physically attend.

Meanwhile, the watchdog advised people who are on the hunt for a rental home outside of their area to arrange for someone they deem reliable to inspect the property on their behalf. Another way is to hire a local licensed real estate agent or property manager to act as their representative.

Ms. Lipscombe warned that people targeted by fake social media accounts are vulnerable to identity theft.

"When seeking a new rental property, tenants should be careful about who they deal with on social media — if their personal information falls into the wrong hands, it can be used to steal their identity,” Ms. Lipscombe said.

She explained that social media users need to be mindful of the information that they give out during these transactions, as the people behind fake profiles may be able to use the data provided to commit future fraud.

"Suspected fake profiles should always be reported to the social media platform, as they are likely attempting to target others too,” she said.

Scam reports can be lodged on the ScamNet website.

The alarm in Western Australia raises reports of tenant scams in Queensland.

You can read more here: Sunshine State scams.

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Jason Gwerder
Wednesday, 14 September 2022

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