Renters and landlords alike are being warned of a spike in rental scams in Western Australia, with the state’s consumer watchdog linking the rise to the end of the state’s rental moratorium, which ended a fortnight ago.
As with many other Australian states, the end of the moratorium fell on March 29. With fewer restrictions in place, landlords were able to evict tenants who the moratorium had previously protected.
Consumer Protection WA has said that the end of the moratorium meant that some rental tenants looking for accommodation were falling prey to scammers. It’s a timely reminder to use real estate agencies wherever possible, with many of the scams presented as private listings on Facebook or Gumtree.
The organisation said that it was becoming more common to see rental scams, with 18 cases in the state so far this year. One victim who reported the scam to Consumer Protection was a mother of four who lost $3,600 to a scammer who posted the property to Facebook Marketplace. The woman inspected the property from outside and transferred the bond, only to find the property occupied by tenants with an agreement with a legitimate PM on the date of her move in.
WA ScamNet coordinator Paul Cvejic explained that there had been an increase in scams for rental properties in the last six months.
“I believe the scammers have taken advantage of people in this time where the value in the market has skyrocketed,” he said.
“They’re advertising these nice properties well below the current rental value, and people are jumping on it thinking that they’re getting a bargain, and because of that, they’re not always doing the checks that they should be doing.”
He said that scammers are hoping that their victims don’t do the appropriate property checks.
“That’s why we’re pushing for people to make sure that they do checks, to make sure that the advertisement is legitimate, inspect the property,” he said.
“Arrange to inspect the inside of the property and be suspicious if they make excuses up for reasons why you can’t actually go into the property.
In 2020, ScamWatch said that Aussies lost more than $300,000 to rental and accommodation scams this year, which is 76 per cent more than the year before.
“Scammers are offering reduced rents due to COVID-19 and using the government restrictions to trick people into transferring money without inspecting the property,” ACCC Deputy Commissioner Delia Rickard said.
“Many people are also experiencing financial difficulties due to the pandemic and the financial impact of falling victim to a scam can be devastating,” Ms Rickard said.
“Try to view a property in person before paying any bond or rent money to landlords or real estate agents,” Ms Rickard said.
She explained that the best way to protect yourself is to complete an online search “to confirm the property exists and, if dealing with an agent, checking that the agent you are dealing with is licensed.”
“Before making any payments ensure you are dealing with the licensed agent. If a scammer has your details, they may impersonate a real estate agent and attempt to ‘follow-up’ requesting money after an inspection.”
Anyone who believes they are the victim of a rental tenancy scam should contact ScamWatch to report it, and for further assistance.