How to spot a rental scam
THIS O-Week, Meld Magazine and the Tenants Union of Victoria highlight some dodgy rental schemes – and how to avoid them.
At the start of the new university year, many international students are on the look out for a place to live. But the Tenants Union of Victoria has issued a warning to students to beware online scammers and dodgy landlords.
“Most students don’t have any experience living independently and navigating the private rental market. They need to be aware there are unscrupulous operators around at this time of year will try to rip them off,” Toby Archer, the tenants union’s policy worker tells Meld.
TIP #1 : Avoid paying a deposit on a place you’ve never seen!
Mr Archer says students have been duped into paying large sums of money as “bond payments” via online or international transfer services to landlords they haven’t met and properties they have never seen.
“Needless to say these students rarely see their money again,” he says.
TIP #2: Be wary of landlords with “complicated” stories
Scammers can be a creative bunch, and Meld’s own reporters have had first-hand experience with “landlords” who have crafted elaborate stories to try and make a quick buck.
The housing ads normally start with something innocuous, like “Fully furnished apartment in CBD for rent, contact XXX for more details”.
Alarm bells should immediately go off however, if you get asked for an immediate deposit, using an excuse like this one:
“I will understand if you doubt me about sending the money to me because we never meet, it would be better if you have a friend or relative here in england that you can send the money to or you send the money in your friend name as the receiver of the money and use my address in england and you will email me his/her name and the MTCN number that will be giving to you in the Western union office for me to track it online so if i confirm that the money is available for pick up i will fly over and after we go see the flat together and after its yours for real you will instruct him or her to release the money to me remember the deposit fee is 500 and its refundable after your stay in the flat if nothing is damaged,i guess this is a good idea it will secure your money and guide you from been scammed,and will make us meet together for real..will you like me to come along with the agreement form or will like me to email it to you?”
We received an almost identical response for a different ad under a different name on another accommodation website .
TIP #3: Watch out for duplicate stories
When you’ve been house hunting long enough, you’ll realise that schemers don’t just advertise on one accommodation website. If a potential landlord’s dodgy story sounds familiar to you, chances are, you’ve heard it before.
For example, spot the differences between these two emails, received from posters of two different ads under different names:
“Thanks for your email and it is my gladness hearing from you.I am Rev E*** i owner the house you are making inquiry of.Actually I resided in the house with my family,such as my wife and my only daughter before and presently we had packed due to my transfer from my working place and now situated in the London and presently my house is still available for rent for 620per month including the utilities like hydro,washer and security,it is furnished.
More so Now, i went for a Crusade in West Africa and i will like you to get in touch with my wife in London for more discussion, as she is with the keys and the document to the house.Pls i want you to note know that we’re kind and honest family and also spent alot on our property that we want to give you for rent,so i will solicit for your absolute maintenance of this house and want you to treat it as your own,is that taken,it is not the money the main problem but want you to keep it tidy all the time so that i will be glad to see it neat when i came for a check up.I also want you to let me have trust in you as i always stand on my word.
Email my wife D*** on ( ****** ) and she will attends to you better,send email to both address.”
“Thanks for your email and it is my gladness to hearing from you.My name is Rev J**** the owner of the house you are making enquiry of…Actually I resided in the house with my family,such as my wife before and presently we had packed due to my transfer from my working place and now situated in united states and presently my house is still available for rent including the utilities like hydro/heat dry washer and security and bills,Everything in the flat is well fully furnised. Moreso Now,I went for a crusade in West Africa and i will like you to get in touch with my wife in united states for more discussion as She is with the keys and the document to the flat.Pls i want you to note that,I am a kind and honest man and also i spent a lot on my property that i want to give you for rent,so i will solicit for your absolute maintenance of this house and want you to treat it as your own,is that taken,it is not the money the main problem but want you to keep it tidy all the time so that i will be glad to see it neat when i came for a check up.i do that once in a while.I also want you to let me have trust in you as I always stand on my word. Send my wife Helen an Immediate message, on ( ******* ) and she will attends to you better on how to proceed.”
TIP #4: Never give out personal details to someone you’ve never met in exchange for more information about a property
You wouldn’t give out your personal details to a stranger, so why give them to a landlord you’ve never met – even if they claim (again) that they are Christian missionaries.
“But now I am on a christain mission in west african and thats the main reason for which we are looking forward to give out this apartment for rent for $120 per week to a family who can take good care of our house as his own I will like to solicit for your absoulute maintenance. and also please fill in the rent details and get back if you are really interested in having our apartment so that i can know all about you before giving you the address as soon as you fill the form i will get back to you with the address of the house.
RENT APPLICATION FORM
1)Your Full Name:
2)Your Full Address & Phone Number:
3)How old are you?:
4)Are you married?:
5)How many people will be living in the house?
6)Do you have a pet?:
7)Do you have a car?:
9)How many months will you like to leave there?: ”
TIP #5: Practice caution when engaging specialist student accommodation providers
Mr Archer from the Tenants Union of Victoria says students who are struggling to secure properties in the mainstream rental market often turn to specialist student accommodation providers, some who claim exemption from the Residential Tenancies Act.
But the sector is replete with landlords who do not respect the consumer protection framework, and many provide substandard rooming house style accommodation, he says.
So do be wary.
TIP #6: Be aware of your rights and get advice from the proper channels.
“It is…vital that (students) understand the law and where to get help,” he said.
Students who are in crisis should also approach the
International Student Care ServiceStudy Melbourne Student Centre for help. The service provides a single point of contact for students in the event of an emergency, including access to counselling, crisis accommodation and food aid.
Ever had a dodgy experience while house hunting? Share your stories with us below.