The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has said that rental scams have jumped by 76% amid the pandemic over 2019 figures, with scammers looking for both money and personal information of their victims.
The ACCC says that Scamwatch has received 560 separate reports of rental scams for 2020, a 56% jump over 2019 figures. In terms of money lost, scammers have made more than $300,000 so far, which represents a 76% increase over last year’s figures.
Scammers are posting listings for residential and commercial properties across Australia to trick victims into handing over their money, as well as their personal information that can later be used for a phishing campaign or to access their financial information.
These listings are often well-below market value for a given property, with descriptions saying that price reductions are related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACCC says that those aged between 25-34 are most likely to fall victim to a rental scam, with the majority of reports originating in NSW, Victoria and the ACT.
The ACCC says that a scammer based in Canberra was pretending to be a Doctor living overseas in Sweden, and was therefore only able to offer applicants virtual tours of the non-existent property before requesting money to secure the property.
Deputy Commissioner of the ACCC, Delia Rickard says that “scammers are offering reduced rents due to COVID-19 and using the government restrictions to trick people into transferring money without inspecting the property.”
According to the release from the ACCC, fraudsters are posting ads onto popular real estate and classified websites to lure in victims, but are also being proactive on their search. The ACCC says that they’re commonly looking on social media sites to target those actively looking for a room, house or property, and contact them directly with their cut-price offer.
Scammers are known to impersonate licenced real estate agents with their online ads, asking the applicant to provide either a deposit to secure an inspection, or instruct them to fill out a lengthy tenant application form.
These forms are one of the most effective means in which a scammer can obtain accurate personal information to use for future scams.
The ACCC’s Deputy Ms Rickard says that “the loss of personal information through rental scams is becoming more common, with scammers requesting copies of identity documents such as spassports, bank statements or payslips.”
“Once a scammer has your personal information, you are at risk of being targeted by further scams or identity theft.”
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“Many people are also experiencing financial difficulties due to the pandemic and the financial impact of falling victim to a scam can be devastating,” Rickard added.
Rickard says that it’s important to “try to view a property in person before paying any bond or rent money to landlords or real estate agents… in areas of Victoria under COVID-19 level 4 restrictions, this is not possible… but you can help protect yourself by doing an online search to confirm the property exists and, if dealing with an agent, checking that the agent you are dealing with is licensed.”
She continued to explain that considering “scammers often rely on email communications to avoid identification, do an independent search for a phone number and speak to the property manager over the phone to arrange a meeting in person.”
“Before making any payments, ensure you are dealing with a licensed agent, if a scammer has your details they may impersonate a real estate agent and attempt to ‘follow-up’ requesting money after an inspection,” Rickard added.
The ACCC is urging those looking to rent a property to contact their state’s renter protection agency for the bond requirements, and tenant’s rights when it comes to finalising a rental agreement.
If you’ve come into contact with a scam, or an online advertisement that appears to be a scam, please report it to Scamwatch. If you’ve fallen victim to some form of identity theft, visit IDCARE or contact them on 1300 IDCARE to receive free, government-funded response plans and identity theft support.