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Tenants: How to spot and avoid rental scams

12 Oct 2018

Over the years, particularly with various DIY advertising portals becoming available to the layman renting out their property, various rental scams have been created, and there now seems to be an increase once again in the prevalence of fake ads and landlords out there.

“Never give out banking details or agree to pay money via an untraceable account, and double check the adverts you respond to by viewing the address on Google Earth or Maps as a cross reference," says Afrika.

This is according to Sunell Afrika, rentals manager at SAProperty.com, who says there is one scam that keeps popping up, which one would think has ‘done its time’ and that people would be aware of and not get caught by, but there are still people being fleeced out of sizeable deposits by being far too trusting.

The typical scam is that a property is advertised to rent, possibly at a lower rental than the norm, and when a potential tenant responds to the ad, in most cases via email, the scamster responds saying that there has been a huge response to the advert and that the application, with the deposit, should be submitted immediately to avoid disappointment, says Afrika.

There have been some reports of application forms being emailed through requesting tenants’ bank details - which would never be requested from a legitimate agent or landlord. The fraudster will often say he or she is out of town, but the keys can be collected from a third party as soon as the deposit is paid over. Usually the details and photos of the particular property have been stolen from another advert placed online, and if one insists on viewing the property first, the emailer will discontinue the conversation and then block all further contact if communication was via text message, she says.

A strange scam that has now also come up, is if a tenant advertises on social media or other portals that they are looking for accommodation, a person will email or text them saying they have something suitable, providing a vague address, again saying that they are out of town, but can make arrangements for the keys to be collected once a deposit has been paid.

They say that they need payment to be made to a money market account or via cardless withdrawal at an ATM, and if pressed for photos of a property, they will send through pictures they have taken from someone else’s website. As with the others, if they are pushed for a physical meeting, they will say the property has been taken and block all further communication, says Afrika.

Another scam is short-term lets being advertised, once more with information and photos stolen from a legitimate online advert, asking for a booking deposit to be paid, and when the person arrives to take occupation of their holiday let, they find it is a fictitious let.

“The first important thing to remember is that if any advert seems too good to be true (price-wise or location-wise) it is and, secondly, that it is vital that you physically view a property with the owner or rental agent before agreeing to pay any money over. While it is understandable that it isn’t always possible to physically view a short-term let, as this would be holiday accommodation, rather book through reputable booking services or agents specialising in this field,” says Afrika.

“Never give out banking details or agree to pay money via an untraceable account, and double check the adverts you respond to by viewing the address on Google Earth or Maps as a cross reference. Ultimately, it is best to deal with a rental agent, as they have to register with the Estate Agency Affairs Board, and will have a Fidelity Fund Certificate as proof that they are operating legitimately.”

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