Beware rental scams: Vulnerable Aussies swindled out of $300K amid pandemic

Sep 21, 2020
Australians are being targeted more than ever with rental scams. Source: Getty.

Scammers have taken advantage of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to swindle Aussies out of their hard-earned cash, and now they are taking aim at the rental market, having conned Australians out of more than $300,000 in rental and accomodation scams this year alone according to new data from The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The mass figure is an increase of 75 per cent compared to the same time last year with the ACCC’s Scamwatch recording 560 reports of rental scams so far in 2020. Reports have increased by more than half since last year with the consumer watchdog finding that many fraudsters are now turning to Covid-related tactics.

Many scams will target people looking for new rental accomodation by offering fake properties at a reduced rate to convince people to hand over money or personal information without inspecting the property first. The enticing low rent is made more convincing due to the pandemic’s impacts on the property market and even virtual inspections can work due to social distancing restrictions, however more often than not these properties are too good to be true.

Advertisements are posted on real estate or classified websites to target people who have posted on social media that they’re on the hunt for accomodation. Once the victim engages with the advertisement, the scammer generally requests an upfront deposit to “secure the property” or will phish for personal information by having the victim fill out a “tenant application form” before promising to hand over the keys after all the information is provided or payments are made.

Scammers have even been known to continue to the ruse by coming up with excuses for the victim to make additional payments before they realise they’re being scammed when the keys don’t arrive and the scammer then cuts off contact. It’s also not unusual for scammers to impersonate real estate agents and organise fake inspections only for the victims to arrive to discover the property doesn’t exist or is currently occupied.

ACCC deputy commissioner Delia Rickard said rental scams are becoming more common as scammers get smarter about their tactics by asking for personal information 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 said. “Many people are also experiencing financial difficulties due to the pandemic and the financial impact of falling victim to a scam can be devastating.”

A common rental scam happening in Canberra at the moment involves a scammer impersonating a doctor who lives in Sweden who only provides virtual inspections before requesting a payment from victims. Rickard said that in cases such as these, and all other cases regarding property, it’s vital to try and view the property in person where possible.

“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,” she said. “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.”

These Covid-related rental scams have mostly targeted younger generations with the most reports coming from those aged 25-34. However, those over 65 have lost the most to scams overall this year with more than $23,500,000 being stolen from retirees in the past nine months.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

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Have you seen these scams? Have you noticed more scams since the pandemic outbreak?

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