Australians have already lost more than $300,000 from rental scams this year, with many of them using tactics related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the consumer watchdog says.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch received 560 reports of rental scams so far in 2020, an increase of 56 per cent, as fraudsters offered fake rental properties to convince people to hand over money or personal information.
The ACCC says the $300,000 lost to such scams was an increase of 76 per cent compared with the same time last year.
“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 in a statement on Monday.
The advertisements are posted on real estate or classified websites or target people who have posted on social media who are looking for a room.
When the victim responds, the scammer will ask for an immediate deposit to secure the property or phish for personal information through a fake “tenant application form”, promising to provide the keys after the payment or information is provided.
The scammer may even come up with excuses for further payments.
The victim only realises they have been rorted when the keys don’t arrive and the scammer severs contact.
Some scammers even go to the extent of impersonating real estate agents and organising fake inspections and it’s only when the victim arrives they realise the property doesn’t exist or is occupied.
Ms Rickard said the loss of personal information through rental scams was becoming more common as scammers requested copies of identity documents such as passports, bank statements or pay slips.
People aged 25-34 reported the most rental scams so far in 2020 and the most reports came from NSW, Victoria and the ACT.
A common rental scam operating in Canberra involved a scammer impersonating a doctor living in Sweden who only offered virtual inspections and then requested bond money.
“Try to view a property in person before paying any bond or rent money to landlords or real estate agents,” Ms Rickard said.
“In areas of Victoria under COVID-19 level four 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 relied 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,” Ms Rickard said.
Potential renters should contact their state consumer protection agency for information on bond requirements and tenants’ rights in their state.
Australian Associated Press