The consumer watchdog is warning of an increase in
rental and accommodation scams, with more than $300,000 lost to fraudulent
activities this year alone.
According to the Australian Competition and
Consumer Commission (ACCC), scammers are targeting anyone seeking new rental
accommodation by offering fake rental properties and using tactics related to the
"Scammers are offering reduced rents due to
COVID-19 and using government restrictions to trick people into
transferring money without inspecting the property,” ACCC deputy commissioner
Delia Rickard said.
Scammers will post advertisements on real estate or
classified websites, as well as targeting people on social media who may have
posted that they are looking for a room to rent or accommodation.
The consumer watchdog has outlined that 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”,
and promising to provide keys after the payment or information is provided.
It warned that the scammer may come up with excuses
for further payments, with potential victims often only realising they have
been scammed when the keys don’t arrive and the scammer cuts off contact.
So far, Australians have lost more than $300,000 to
such scams in 2020 from 560 reported incidents, according to Scamwatch, with
total scams up 56 percent and monetary losses up 76 percent this year to date
compared with 2019.
According to the ACCC, some scammers are even
impersonating real estate agents and organising fake inspections.
Ms. Rickard said more commonly, this type of scam is
leading to the loss of personal information, with scammers requesting copies of
identity documents such as passports, bank statements, or payslips.
"Once a scammer has your personal information, you
are at risk of being targeted by further scams or identity theft,” she warned.
The deputy commissioner acknowledged that with so
many individuals already struggling with financial difficulties due to the
pandemic, "the financial impact of falling victim to a scam can be
The virtual inspection fallacy
The ACCC has said one "common scam” sees a scammer
only offering virtual inspections and then requesting bond money.
Ms. Rickard advised potential renters to "try to
view a property in person before paying any bond or rent money to landlords or
real estate agents”.
For Victorian areas where COVID-19 level 4
restrictions mean this is not possible, the deputy commissioner said you can
still help protect yourself by doing an online search to confirm the property
exists and, if dealing with an agent, check 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,” she
"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
In addition, the watchdog noted that potential
renters can contact their state consumer protection agency for information on bond
requirements and tenants’ rights in their state.
The ACCC is urging anyone who suspects they are a
victim of a rental scam to act quickly to reduce the risk of financial loss or
They should contact their bank as soon as possible,
and where relevant, contact the platform on which they were scammed.
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Monday, 28 September 2020