Fake online properties leave desperate Perth renters homeless

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Kim MacdonaldThe West Australian
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VideoA city-wide rental shortage has left Perth on the brink of a housing emergency.

The rental crisis has taken a sinister turn with scammers stealing thousands of dollars for fake rental properties, leaving some people homeless.

The Department of Consumer Protection said it had so far received 18 reports of rental scams this year with five people losing a total of $7,200.

The scams typically involve people paying an upfront bond and sometimes a rental payment too for a property advertised on websites sites like Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree.

As soon as the payment is made, the advert disappears.

A recent case involved a mother and her four children who are now homeless after losing $3,600 — which includes a $2,000 bond and $1,600 rent — to a scammer who was advertising a Clarkson property on Facebook Marketplace.

The mother drove past the property but did not meet the fake landlord in person.

When she turned up to the home to move in on the agreed date, the keys were not in the pre-arranged location.

After knocking on the door she found the home was occupied by tenants who had an agreement with the legitimate property agent.

In another case, a young mother with her child lost an $1,800 bond payment after responding to an advertisement on Facebook Marketplace.

As soon as the payment was made for the Piara Waters property, the ad disappeared and the fake landlord’s email account was deleted. The woman never inspected the property. She has since had to move in with her mother in Armadale.

Consumer Protection commissioner Lanie Chopping urged tenants not to send money for properties they had not physically inspected. She said prospective tenants should meet the landlord, or their agent, before handing over money.

“Often the scammers will say that they are overseas or interstate so they can’t physically meet or show them the property, but will leave the keys hidden outside for them to gain access after a bond and rent in advance are paid,” she said.

“The scammers could also say that tenants are currently living in the property so advised to just do a drive-by inspection.”

Ms Choping said the fraudsters sometimes asked for identification documents, which exposed the victims to the potential for identity theft.

“These heartless scammers are exploiting the desperation of tenants who may face being homeless unless they can secure a rental and the victims can least afford to lose money to fraudsters,” she said.

Ms Choping advised going through a licensed real estate agent or property management company.

TIPS TO AVOID BEING SCAMMED ON RENTAL PROPERTIES:

  • Be suspicious of properties being rented for well below the current rental value.
  • Never solely rely on photos provided to you. Do a reverse image search.
  • Search the address online to see if the property exists or if it is listed by a different agency.
  • Only deal with landlords you can meet face-to-face, or go through a licensed real estate agent.
  • Always inspect the property prior to signing a lease agreement or paying money.
  • Ensure you receive the keys and a copy of the signed lease agreement in exchange for any funds you have agreed to pay.
  • Be careful if asked to pay funds via direct bank transfer unless you are sure the payment is to a licensed real estate agent.
  • If in doubt – contact WA ScamNet on 1300 30 40 54.

Source: Department of Consumer Protection

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