Scammers who hacked into a Perth western suburbs’ real estate agency’s email account were able to steal thousands from two prospective tenants.
Western Australia’s consumer watchdog is investigating a report that two separate renters searching for homes in Perth were scammed into misdirecting $23,500 in bond payments and rent in advance to a bank account that was not associated with the rental agency.
One case involved an international arrival to Perth who was staying at a hotel awaiting confirmation of the rental property at the time the alleged scammer struck. The victim made several payments to the scammer amounting to $13,100, but was told that the COVID-19 outbreak had caused a delay in having the keys delivered.
In the second instance, a woman who was relocating to Perth from a regional area paid $10,400 after she believed she had been contacted by the property manager. She also provided personal and financial information and identification documents to the email recipient.
Western Australia’s commissioner for consumer protection Gary Newcombe is urging renters to be vigilant about the possibility they are being scammed, and to know their rights.
“It’s worth noting that it is illegal for a landlord or their agent to charge more than four weeks’ rent for bond and more than two weeks’ rent in advance, plus a maximum of $260 for a pet bond where relevant,” he noted.
He believes the current market conditions are contributing to the likelihood of renters being susceptible to falling victim to these types of ploys.
“Scammers always prey on people in vulnerable situations, such as those desperately searching for rental properties in the current tight market,” Mr Newcombe said.
“The victims are of course devastated when they learn they don’t have the property and have lost the money they have sent. In one case, the victim is facing further expenses for hotel accommodation until he finds another property,” he added.
Mr Newcombe is cautioning prospective tenants to do their due diligence before transferring money to secure a property.
“Prospective tenants need to be aware of this scam activity and we would recommend they make phone contact with the property manager to confirm the outcome of their application and double check the bank account details provided for the payment,” he said.
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Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.