Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Rental scams skyrocket with demand for properties

Detectives from the Victoria Police Cybercrime Squad are investigating a marked increase in reports of rental scams, where a property is falsely offered for rent using online advertisements.

With the current high demand for rental properties and an increase in rental prices, the rental market is becoming increasingly competitive, and properties are harder to obtain, Victoria Police said in a statement.

“Subsequently, well known property websites and online marketplaces are increasingly popular for offenders to utilise and deceitfully convince victims that a property is available for rent.”

“Generally, victims are enticed with cheap rent and persuaded to act quickly by paying a deposit to secure the property,” Police said.

Police say the offender may send photos and videos of a property, real addresses, copies of land titles and sometimes scans of passports – which they will purport are their own – to make the transaction feel genuine.

They will often ask for one month’s rent and bond upfront, before requesting the victim send through identification documents such as drivers’ licenses, Medicare cards and passports.

Once offenders have this information, they will often use the identification to commit identity fraud and scam other unsuspecting victims.

“An opportunistic scam like this one can end up hitting everyday Victorians where it really hurts, particularly during a shortage of rental properties and a cost-of-living crisis,” said Cybercrime Squad Detective Sergeant, John Cheyne.

“People and families who are simply looking for a place to call home or the vulnerable in our community are being preyed upon and it can have devastating consequences for them.”

Since 1 January of this year, Victoria Police has received reports of over 61 rental scams, with a total reported loss of $125,819.23 so far.

Those aged between 18-29 were the highest reported victims, with over 40 reports received from that age bracket.

Eleven reports were received in the 30-39 age bracket, four each in 40-49 and 50-59, and one in 60-69 (one report has no age recorded).

The total reported loss is comprised of victims located in Victoria and where persons of interest have not yet been identified for the offending, as well as interstate victims where the person of interest has been identified in Victoria, so it is likely the actual total reported loss is much higher.

It appears most offenders are located within Australia and are not known to the victims, Victoria Police said.

Investigators are warning people to take steps to protect themselves – including never signing a lease agreement or making payment before having viewed a property.

“If something seems too good to be true and the rent seems much too low for the area, it probably is. You should always inspect a property in person, or if that’s not possible, send someone on your behalf,” said Det Sgt Cheyne.

“Never send your personal details early on in the process, and you should never sign a lease agreement or make any payments before seeing the property.

“Double check the advertised property information and do your own independent searches on phone numbers, email addresses and names.

“Speak to the person over the phone and arrange a meeting in person if you feel comfortable to do so. You should also consider using a reputable accommodation website that offers added protection.

“If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a rental scam, call your bank immediately and let them know, before reporting the matter via ReportCyber. You should also contact the platform on which you were scammed to inform them of their circumstances.”

He said offenders will often create a sense of urgency by saying the property won’t be available for much longer, or that they have other people waiting to put down a deposit.

“They may also say that they are interstate or overseas and consequently the property is unavailable for viewing.”

“You should always inspect a property in person, or by sending someone on your behalf.

“If you are interstate or overseas looking for a rental, ask someone you trust to make the inquiries on your behalf, or consider using a real estate agent.

“If you have been the victim of cybercrime, speak to police if you have concerns about a matter, or use online forums such as ReportCyber and the ESafety Commissioner which will assess the report and provide them to police.”

Anyone with knowledge of these incidents and those responsible is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report at www.crimestoppers.com.au

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