Rental scams affect both potential renters and potential landlords. 

Fake Rental Properties

Scammers will use fake postings on real property websites (gumtree, domain, flatmate.com.au). The ads will look genuine (photos and descriptions are taken from other sites) but the address will either not exist, or is not available for rent.

The Overseas Property Owner

You find a property to rent. It is a nice house in a good neighbourhood with very cheap rent. The owner is currently overseas and wants to rent their home to a good person. After exchanging a few more emails, you feel you know the family well, and you are trustworthy enough to be chosen as the person to rent the property. The owner then asks you to transfer money (via Western Union) as security. In return they will mail the key and lease agreement. You are assured that you will love the house, but if not you can send the key back and get a refund. It sounds too good to be true. The money is transferred, but the keys are never sent, and the owner has mysteriously disappeared. 

Scammers try to earn your confidence; when you believe that they trust you, you forget to question whether you should trust them. 

The “Forgetful” Property Owner 

You find a property to rent and arrange to meet the owner for an inspection. You arrive at the property but find that the owner has forgotten the key. You arrange to meet another time. But they really want you to rent it, and ask for a security deposit to hold the property for you until you can see inside. The rent is low, you like the look of the building (you may even have seen some photos of the inside), and need somewhere to live, so you hand over the money. You wait for the next inspection, but the owner never shows up. You knock on the door of the property hoping that the current tenant will be able to contact the owner, but they tell you that the person who took your money was not the owner, and the property is not even for rent. 

Scammers will always make excuses as to why you cannot inspect the property but ask for an upfront payment of money. Never pay money for a property you have not inspected both inside and out (even if you have seen photographs). 

Fake Tenants

Overpayment Scams

You advertise a room for rent. You receive a response from someone who has to travel to Australia for work. They are so keen to rent the room that they will send you a cheque for the first month’s rent and security deposit without even seeing the property or signing the lease. So you agree. As an act of good faith they ask you to remove your advertisement form the website so that other people do not apply. You receive the cheque in the mail but it is for more than the agreed price, so you contact your new tenant. They explain that their company (who is paying the relocation costs) accidentally made out the cheque for the total amount of the relocation and not just the rent. They ask you to cash the cheque; deduct the agreed amount of rent and immediately refund the extra money through Western Union. This is the quickest way to transfer money and it is needed to purchase their airline ticket and travel insurance. You feel bad about the mistake and so wire the money before the cheque has cleared. You do not want to lose this tenant or delay their arrival. A few days later, you are contacted by the bank. The cheque has either bounced (there was not enough money in the account to cover the amount) or is a fake (counterfeit cheques may clear before the bank realises that it is not real). In either case, you are left out of pocket and without a tenant. 

Scammers are hoping that you refund the money before you realise the cheque is fake. Always send it back and ask for the correct payment.

Protect Yourself  

If you are suspicious, do an internet search of the person’s name, email and property address, or even some of the email text. Scammers commonly repeat facts and there are many websites dedicated to exposing scams by posting examples of scam emails. 

There are common themes in well-known rental scams: 
•  The home owner or tenant is overseas;
•  Spelling/grammar mistakes in the text of the email;
•  Rent may be lower than other properties
•  Exchange of money involves a wire transfer through Western Union
•  You have to pay money upfront
•  The key has to be mailed to you
•  An overpayment of money (by cheque) which needs to be immediately refunded 
•  Asking for uncommon personal details (date of birth, tax file number, passport) 

REMEMBER

•  Never send money to someone you don’t know 
•  Always be suspicious of anyone asking you to wire money out of the country. 
•  Never ever send personal, credit card or bank account details through an email to a stranger 
•  With enough information, scammers can steal your identity theft 
•  Never send copies of your passport to anyone over the internet 
•  It is not needed to prepare a lease 
•  Always do a drive by and make sure that the address is real and the property matches the description given by the owner 
•  Never pay money upfront BEFORE you have seen inside the property 
•  If you’ve only seen the property from the street, wait for a proper inspection. 
•  Always wait for the cheque to clear 
•  Even if you think it’s not a scam, never pay for a refund with your own money  

What to do if you have been scammed? 

Scammers are almost impossible to track down as many only exist on the internet through fake email addresses, and more often than not, the scam originates overseas. You cannot recover money from someone you cannot find. 

Reduce the damage

Contact your bank immediately - if you have given personal or bank details to anyone, arrange for your account to be suspended and passwords and pin numbers changed. 

Report the scam

Report to ScamWatch and post your experiences on internet forums, and on social networking websites.