When looking for a rental property, there are often time pressures that mean you need to find a new home quickly.

It can be quite competitive if it is a nice option for the price, which adds to the sense of urgency.

Scammers are all too aware of these factors and target tenants through online classified advertisements featuring properties that don’t exist or are owned by someone else.

Consumer Protection has heard from real estate agents who have had prospective tenants turn up to home-open viewings because of scammers stealing the photos and advertising the property as a rental, when in reality it is for sale. Already about 30 accommodation scam victims contacted WA ScamNet, and between them, the total monetary loss was almost $43,000 — an average loss for each victim of almost $1500. Tell-tale signs that the person offering the property for rent is a scammer include:

• The rent asked is cheap for the quality of the property.

• They won’t speak on the phone or meet in person.

• They come up with excuses why you can’t view the property before payment of deposit, bond or rent.

• They may give details about themselves, such as a respected profession, or mention volunteer work to induce you into thinking they are of good character.

• They might provide a scanned passport or a copy of a house title deed to supposedly verify their identity — scammers are skilled computer users and can create fake documents.

How to catch the scammers out when looking for a rental:

• Never rely solely on photos.

• Google the address given to see if the property is up for sale or being rented out by a legitimate property agent.

• Visit the address to check it exists and knock on the door to speak to whoever is living there.

• Only deal with landlords you can meet face to face or go through a property agency.

• Do not hand over money before any exchange of contract or keys.

Under WA tenancy law, a security bond cannot be more than four times the weekly rent unless the weekly rental value is more than $1200.

More important, bonds must be lodged with the Bond Administrator at Consumer Protection.

Read more about renting a property at www.commerce.wa.gov.au/tenancy.

To find out how to report dodgy rental property adverts and associated email accounts, see the WA ScamNet website at www.scamnet.wa.gov.au. If you have lost money in a rental scam, an investigation may be carried out if the offender is in Australia. Call 1300 304 054 and ask for WA ScamNet to discuss your case.


© The West Australian