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Fake accommodations: the new weapon of scammers


By Juliano Oliveira

The COVID-19 has affected the accommodation market in Australia as $300,000 ended up in the hands of scammers posing as property owners.

It means an increase of 76% compared to the same time last year, according to figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

There have been 560 reports of rental scams so far this year, an increase of 56%.

Fraudsters are now associating the COVID-19 pandemic with people seeking new rental accommodation. Properties are falsely showed to convince people into handing over money or personal information.

“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.

The scammers’ tactics consist of advertisements on real estate websites or finding potential tenants on social media that are looking for a room.

A negotiation between victim and scammer will start with a deposit request to secure the property. The victims also may have to fill a ‘tenant application form’, with the promise to receive the keys after the payment or data is provided.

“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,” Ms Rickard said.

Once the tenant makes the payment, the scammer will disappear. There are cases that the scammer will even impersonate real estate agents and organise fake inspections.

“Once a scammer has your personal information, you are at risk of being targeted by further scams or identity theft.”

“Many people are also experiencing financial difficulties due to the pandemic, and the financial impact of falling victim to a scam can be devastating,” Ms Rickard said.

People aged 25–34 reported the most rental scams so far in 2020, and the most reports came from NSW, VIC and the ACT.

“Try to view a property in person before paying any bond or rent money to landlords or real estate agents,” Ms Rickard 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,” Ms Rickard said.

“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 inspection.”

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

More information on scams is available on the Scamwatch website, including how to make a report and where to get help.

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