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Real estate agent's scam warning after two families robbed of $10k and home

People looking to find a new home are being told to be wary of adverts they see online.

Aussies looking to find a new rental home are being warned to be careful of scam property ads being run on social media after two families were robbed of $10,000 each.

The rental crisis has been hitting wannabe tenants hard as they attend dozens of inspections in the hope of finding somewhere liveable and affordable.

But scammers are capitalising on the crisis by luring desperate people in with fake adverts and then conning them out of thousands of dollars. These criminals rip real or old ads from real estate websites and convince people to sign a forged tenancy agreement as well as hand over money for a bond.

Real estate agent talking about scams next to two people doing an inspection on a rental property
Rental scams have fleeced thousands from desperate Aussies trying to find a roof over their heads. (Source: 9News/Getty)

Have you been a victim of a rental scam? Email stew.perrie@yahooinc.com

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Real estate agent Caleb Reis said two families fell for this new scam and quickly found themselves homeless and $10,000 out of pocket.

“They, unfortunately, paid for the property, bond and the holding deposit and accepted the property sight unseen. [They’d] signed what they thought was a legitimate lease agreement, came to move-in day, rocked up to the property and there were other occupants,” Reis told 9News.

He revealed this type of scam had ramped up in the “last six months”. It’s also prevalent in the US, with the FBI receiving 11,727 real-estate-related complaints in 2022 alone and losses mounting to more than $396 million.

People looking for a new rental property have been warned to be wary of ads seen on social media pages and to make sure they see the place in person or at least ask for a video of a walk-through to ensure it matches the pictures online.

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You can also search the address online to see if the property listing is legitimate and you can contact the real estate company to verify the information. Renters are also urged not to pay a bond or advanced rent until they’re certain the property is legitimate.

Scammers tried to target vulnerable Australians looking for property during the COVID pandemic. Scamwatch received more than 500 reports of rental scams from January to September in 2020, with more than $300,000 fleeced from people.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission deputy commissioner Delia Rickard said at the time that scammers could take more than just your money.

“The loss of personal information through rental scams is becoming more common, with scammers requesting copies of identity documents such as passports, bank statements or payslips,” Rickard said.

“Once a scammer has your personal information you are at risk of being targeted by further scams or identity theft.”

How do I protect myself from scammers?

Aussies lost a record $3.1 billion to scammers last year, an 80 per cent increase on the previous year.

Scamwatch warn to beware of the following scenarios:

  • It’s an amazing opportunity to make or save money

  • Someone you haven’t met needs your help - and money

  • The message contains links or attachments

  • You feel pressured to act quickly

  • They ask you to pay in an unusual or specific way

  • They ask you to set up new accounts or Pay ID

What should I do if I think I’ve been scammed?

Contact your bank and report the scam. Ask them to stop transactions and stop sending any money.

Report the scam to Scamwatch here and make an official complaint to police here.

Watch out for follow up scams, particularly ones promising they can get your money back. Scamwatch warned one in three victims of a scam are scammed more than once.

Lastly, get support for yourself. You can talk to a financial counsellor or reach out to BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or here for an online chat or Lifeline for crisis support online here on 13 11 14.

You can also contact IDCARE to “reduce the harm they experience from the compromise and misuse of their identity information by providing effective response and mitigation”.