As Western Australian renters grapple with the accommodation shortage and cost-of-living crisis, a regulator warned online scammers are coming out of the woodwork to exploit the situation.
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So far this year, the WA ScamNet team at Consumer Protection has received reports from 41 victims who lost a total of $86,525 to scammers pretending to be landlords proliferating online marketplaces and social media platforms with fake property listings and responses to ‘rental wanted’ adverts.
Alarmingly, the figures eclipse the previous record of $63,610 lost by 34 victims of rental fraud during the entirety of 2022.
“Money’s tight right now for many Western Australians, so the last thing any hopeful tenant needs is to be scammed out of their hard-earned money, on top of having nowhere to live,” the state’s consumer protection unit stated.
The consumer watchdog cautioned that grifters are becoming more sophisticated when luring in their potential victims.
It warned scammers will invest time in grooming their prospective targets, complimenting them as the ‘perfect tenant’ for the property, before launching into the money grab.
Additionally, scammers frequently make up excuses to avoid showing the inside of the property, eventually pressuring victims to make upfront payments for the bond and rent via bank transfer.
Once a meeting is scheduled to receive the keys at the property, the would-be renter uncovers the scam, as they find the property they paid for is either already occupied, unavailable or, in reality, listed for sale instead.
To safeguard against scammers, Consumer Protection advised renters to take several precautions.
Prospective renters are recommended to physically view the property and be cautious of listings with unusually low rental values, a common tactic the agency said is used by scammers to lure victims.
Second, it’s advised to conduct a reverse image search on the provided property images to check for authenticity.
In September 2022, the agency warned scammers are pirating images from legitimate rental home ads to use in fraudulent listings.
Additionally, prospective renters are advised to engage only with landlords who are willing to meet face-to-face or opt for transactions through licensed real estate agents.
When making payments, the agency noted being wary of direct bank transfers unless it is certain the funds are being deposited into a trust account held by a licensed real estate agent, offering protection under legislation.
Lastly, renters are advised to ensure that they receive the keys and a copy of the signed lease (on the correct form) in exchange for any agreed-upon funds, as this validates the legitimacy of the transaction and provides greater assurance for the rental process.
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