Beware of online rental property scams

Beware of online rental property scams

The internet has completely transformed the way we look for property. With a quick search, we can find rentals in our desired locations that meet our specific needs and budget. Unfortunately, this level of convenience comes with its fair share of risk, one being online rental property scams.

In early April 2020, Lynda Galway, Founder of RentEzy, received a phone call from a distraught mother.

“They went to check out a rental in Victoria with their daughter to discover it had already been rented,” Lynda said. “The so-called landlord told them to just do a drive-by yet was requesting four weeks rent in advance and the bond.”

It was a classic online rental property scam. The user had uploaded a rental property to RentEzy that they had found online in the hopes an unsuspecting tenant would fork over serious cash.

“It was confirmation of my intuition that scammers were in RentEzy.”

Lynda decided to take significant action.

“I have changed RentEzy to approve all new manual listings now. So, any uploads through the site now have to be approved by me,” she said. “It’s the only way for us to safely move forward.”

Prospective tenants can be confident in the legitimacy of properties listed on the rental site.

“This is major. It’s definitely a point of difference.”

How to identify a rental property scam

Rental scams are prevalent across unregulated online marketplaces and social media platforms. The following signs may indicate a rental scam in action:

  • The landlord is overseas, travelling, or cannot meet in person or provide a rental inspection for any other reason.
  • You are asked to hand over rent in advance, the bond, or any other funds before anything else happens. Viewing fees and holding fees are not a part of the process – if a so-called landlord is asking for money upfront (particularly via an electronic payment system like PayPal), do not proceed.
  • The property is too good for the listing price. If you have spotted a property with tons of attractive features – maybe stunning views, a swimming pool, or full furnishings – for a price well below the market average, be wary.
  • The listing’s photos aren’t quite right. While there’s no hard and fast rule, listings with blurry, poorly lit, or pixelated photos may not be legitimate. Scammers generally rip images off of other property sites, a process that can greatly reduce the quality of the image.
  • The description is lazy and littered with mistakes. A legitimate private landlord puts effort into showcasing their rental. A scammer does not.

Do keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list, nor are all properties with the above features scams.

How to protect yourself against rental property scams

The number one thing you can do to protect yourself against rental scams is to find your rental via a reputable platform. Online marketplaces and social media platforms are essentially free-for-alls – anyone can upload a property and scam tenants into handing over their money.

You can also protect yourself against fraud by doing the following:

  • Organise to inspect the property inside and out. SCAMwatch notes, “a drive-by is not enough. With these types of scams, the property may genuinely exist, but it is owned by someone else.”
  • Ensure to save copies of any correspondence, including emails, phone calls, and instant messages via social media.
  • Search the property’s address and landlord name online. You might find information from others that have been scammed by the same individual in the past.
  • Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. There are plenty of properties available to rent, and you’re much better off being safe than sorry.

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