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AU Be on alert for rental scam

Property Here - Sunday, May 05, 2013

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RENTERS have been warned to be alert to a scam that has claimed a number of Victorian victims.

The only significant scam known to operate in Victorian real estate involves a property advertised for rent online by an overseas "owner''.

Victims are lured into paying bond money - and even a few weeks' rent - but are never given access to the property.

Consumer Affairs Victoria received 28 reports of the scam and variations of it last year, but expect many more cases have not been reported because of the victims' embarrassment.

Those looking to rent a property are advised to be wary when they find a listing that is too good to be true, or doesn't look right.

"There are often tell-tale signs that something is not quite right, such as pixelated photos, poor spelling and grammar and an interstate or overseas landlord,'' said Department of Justice, which includes CAV, spokeswoman Samantha Gunner.

"Another tell-tale sign is the requirement to use overseas payment facilities. Once your money has left the country, it is very unlikely that it will be recovered.''

Scammers will often place their ads on popular classified sites and use images of genuine rental listings copied from other sites - but at least one scammer is known to have registered a scam ad with an agent, even paying for advertising.

Among the victims were:
A WOMAN who advertised she wanted a place to rent. After someone replied to that ad she sent $1200 to Malaysia, but never heard anything further.
A MAN who also advertised he was looking for a rental property and was contacted by a woman claiming she was travelling to London for business and offering her East Melbourne apartment for $150 per week.
The man sent a $600 bond and $600 rent for the first month to the woman by wiring service.
Then demands of further payments were made before his move-in date. The man ignored the request but never received the keys or his $1200 back.
TENANTS who were shown through a vacant property, signed a lease and paid a cash bond -but never received the keys.

Jacqui Wardhaugh, director for compliance with consumer protection for Western Union, said it would be wise for prospective tenants to question any offer that appeared to be too good to be true.

"People need to stop and ask `is this real?', ask yourself how come, there's got to be a catch,'' she said.

She said she believed most victims were falling prey to scammers from overseas.

"They are targeting vulnerable people, most banks have call centres off-shore, so most Australians don't tend to be too sceptical of off-shore people,'' she said.

"(And) people going to a new city may be particularly vulnerable.''

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