With vacancy rates at record lows locally and nationally, exploitative rental scammers have taken the opportunity to ramp up their illegal activities, targeting increasingly desperate would-be renters.
Reports of rental scams in WA have been on the rise for the past three years. 48 reports totalling $32,320 in losses were made in 2021, 64 reports with total losses of $63,610 in 2022, and, as of August, there have already been 41 reports totalling $86,525 in 2023, an alarming new record high.
In this blog, we look at the mechanics of rental fraud, how to spot it, and things you can do to prevent yourself from being personally targeted.
What kind of rental scams are there?
Though not a new phenomenon, the prevalence of rental scams has increased dramatically in the wake of COVID-19. The reasoning for this is twofold:
- COVID-19 has caused rental markets to tighten substantially, thereby putting would-be renters in an increasingly desperate and vulnerable position.
- Physical distancing requirements during the pandemic’s peak created a situation where the leasing process became more online and less face-to-face.
The scams themselves are many and varied, but they tend to follow a similar blueprint. In two recent reports of rental fraud in Perth, the prospective tenants received a fake email from what appeared to be a real estate agency informing them that their lease application had been successful. They were then instructed to provide identification documents and transfer their bond and rent in advance to the scammer’s bank account to finalise their tenancy agreement. They subsequently discovered they had been defrauded of $13,100 and $10,400 respectively, and were also now vulnerable to identity theft.
Whether via email, social media or trading posts like Gumtree, rental scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated, so it pays to be on the lookout for signs of potential fraudulent behaviour.
Things to watch out for
In Perth, most rental properties are managed by property managers. It is not standard practice for property managers to advertise rental properties on platforms like Gumtree, WhatsApp or Facebook Marketplace, and it’s rarer still for them to contact you directly on these platforms. Any such contact should be treated with suspicion.
Deals too good to be true
If you come across a rental price that looks uncharacteristically cheap for a particular suburb, do some more research before submitting your application to see if it’s too good to be true. For example, REIWA’s property search tool is a good way to get an idea of average property prices for any given suburb.
Physical viewings not available
If the person you are speaking to indicates that a property viewing is not possible, whether it’s because they are interstate, their whole office has Covid, or they instead suggest a drive-by viewing, this is a likely sign that they are attempting to scam you.
Paying to fast-track your application
The success of your tenancy application should never be determined by whether or not you submit your bond and rent in advance before another applicant. In a legitimate situation, if you are the successful tenant, you’ll be notified of this by the property manager, provided a rental agreement, and then given a set period of time to deposit the relevant amounts. If this period lapses without payment, then the property manager will move onto other applicants or re-list the property.
Payment of the bond and rent-in-advance should never come before you have been notified that you are the successful tenant and should not be solicited on the basis that you may otherwise ‘miss out’.
How to protect yourself
Ensure the legitimacy of the property manager / landlord
The safest way to do this is to go through an established real estate agency and only deal with property managers or landlords that you’re able to meet face to face. A good way to test this is to request a property inspection – if this cannot be accommodated, there’s a good chance the person you’re talking to is trying to scam you.
Check whether the property listing is real
If you see a property listing on Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree, it’s worth checking whether the property is listed for sale on trusted websites, such as REIWA or Realestate, and also googling the address to see if it’s listed anywhere else. If you can’t find a relevant listing, or find one that’s at odds with the one you originally saw, it’s likely you’ve stumbled upon a scam.
Another way to check this is via a reverse image search – this will help you see if an image from the listing you’re viewing has also been used in a listing for a different property. If this is the case, it’s likely the image has been taken from the original listing and used to create a new fraudulent one.
Don’t rush into payments
Never send a deposit to ‘boost your chances’ of being the successful applicant. In fact, your bond and rent-in-advance shouldn’t be paid until the property manager has confirmed you’re the successful applicant and given you a copy of the lease agreement. You should also contact your property manager by phone if you receive an email requesting payment that includes different payment details – this could indicate your property manager’s email has been hacked. As well as money, be mindful who you share your personal information with – you should never need to send any identifying information directly to your prospective ‘landlord’.
Do you have a question about rental scams? At Access Property Management, we’re happy to help, simply contact us with your query.