Two people searching for a rental have lost a total of $23,500 after scammers appeared to have hacked into a Perth western suburbs’ real estate agency’s email account. Consumer Protection is investigating reports that two prospective tenants received a fake email purporting to be from the agency saying they had been successful in their rental applications and giving instructions to forward the bond and rent in advance payments to a bank account controlled by the scammers.
In one case, an international arrival to Perth, who was staying at a hotel awaiting confirmation of the rental property, made several payments to the scammer amounting to $13,100 and the scam email replies blamed a COVID-19 outbreak in the office for not being able to deliver the keys to his hotel. After the initial payment was made, the scammer came back with another demand for more rent in advance.
In the other case, a woman who was re-locating from a regional area to Perth paid $10,400 following an email exchange with the scammer who was masquerading as the property manager. She had also sent personal and financial information as well as identification documents.
These alarming cases have prompted Commissioner for Consumer Protection Gary Newcombe to urgently warn potential tenants to be cautious when communicating and transacting online. “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. In past examples of rental scams, the victims are sometimes left homeless and unable to pay for another 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. Sending personal and financial information as well as identification documents to scammers will also increase the risk of identity theft, so people need to be extra cautious and verify the recipient is genuine before sending money, information or documents. 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.
Media release from Consumer Protection 12th July 2022