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People eager to secure a rental property amid WA’s tight market are falling victim to scammers using social media accounts to post fake ‘to let’ ads.
So far this year, WA ScamNet at Consumer Protection has received 40 reports of rental scams with 21 victims losing a total of $41,000. In 2021, there were 48 reports with 18 victims losing $32,320.
Many of the victims respond to fake social media ads before being lured into making hasty decisions and transferring money to secure a rental property without carrying out proper checks. Also be cautious when posting a wanted ad as scammers may respond.
When transactions are carried out through instant messages, email or by text, it’s very easy for scammers to remain anonymous and provide false information.
Prospective tenants are advised to have a face-to-face meeting with the owner or their agent and not accept any excuses for them not being able to physically attend. Those who are seeking a rental home outside of their area may wish to consider arranging for someone else to inspect the property or perhaps engaging a local licensed real estate agent/property manager to act on their behalf.
Acting Executive Director for Consumer Protection Penny Lipscombe warns that people targeted by fake social media accounts also risked being exposed to identity theft.
“When seeking a new rental property, tenants should be careful about who they deal with on social media – if their personal information falls into the wrong hands, it can be used to steal their identity,” Ms Lipscombe said.
“Social media users need to be mindful of the information that they provide during these transactions as the people behind fake profiles may be able to extract data that allows them to commit future fraud.
“Suspected fake profiles should always be reported to the social media platform, as they are likely attempting to target others too.”
Consumer Protection is advising private landlords, real estate agents and property managers to take measures that may reduce the chance of ads for legitimate rental homes being pirated.
“While there is a widespread industry practice of watermarking photos of homes for rent, this appears to be used more as a marketing exercise than a cybersecurity measure,” Ms Lipscombe said.
“Watermarking may discourage scammers from using those photos in a fake ad, so I would encourage all property owners and managers to adopt this practice. Better still, explore the option of blocking the photos from being downloaded from websites you use to market your properties which would also serve as a fraud deterrent.”
General information and advice on scams is available on the WA ScamNet website where scam reports can be lodged. Enquiries can be made by email email@example.com or by calling 1300 30 40 54.
Media Contact: Alan Hynd, (08) 6552 9248 / 0429 078 791 / firstname.lastname@example.org