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Bond payment and deposit scams: REINZ's warning for tenants

Anne Gibson,
Publish Date
Mon, 3 Jul 2023, 12:58pm
REINZ has warned tenants against scams. Photo / 123rf
REINZ has warned tenants against scams. Photo / 123rf

Bond payment and deposit scams: REINZ's warning for tenants

Anne Gibson,
Publish Date
Mon, 3 Jul 2023, 12:58pm

The Real Estate Institute has warned tenants not to fall for online property fraud after several recent cyber scams, with its cyber security partner issuing a plan so people can safeguard themselves.

Jen Baird, chief executive, said fraud had hit the property management and online rental listing sector and she told how in May, an Auckland property management company was hit by a scammer who duplicated one of its rental listings and posted it on their personal Facebook page.

“A victim fell for the scam and gave the scammer - who was posing as the landlord - their personal information and bond payment before they realised they had been scammed,” Baird said.

This follows the Herald reporting in April how a young Englishman allegedly took thousands of dollars in deposits from house hunters after showing them through an apartment and promising them a tenancy before fleeing the country.

A Northland couple due to move into a rental together also found out a week before that their supposed new home was not up for rent. Devlin and Danielle Maras were relieved when they found a Facebook page for rentals that allow pets. They put a post up on the page explaining they had a cat and dog, and a few weeks later received a message from a woman who claimed to have their perfect home for rent.

Baird of REINZ said a scammer had registered a victim to view a property using the contact information the victim provided, through the property management company’s website. The scammer then pretended that they were the owner offering a deal separate from the property manager, and offered the property to the victim the place if they paid their deposit immediately.

The bank was, fortunately, able to reverse the victim’s payment before it was too late, Baird said.

Otherwise, it could have meant the victim lost a significant amount of money.

A spokesperson for the property management company impersonated says: “The most disappointing part of this experience is that these scammers are preying on vulnerable and desperate people — people who really need to find somewhere to live — and people who can at least afford to lose up to five weeks rent and bond. It’s a colossal amount of money to lose for most people.”

REINZ was also notified of another online scam using a property management company’s name and logo to email tenants through a property listing portal about available rental listings in a city in which that property management company had no presence.

Jen Baird, REINZ chief executive. Photo / Fiona GoodallJen Baird, REINZ chief executive. Photo / Fiona Goodall

“We are hearing from our members that these types of scams are becoming increasingly common and it’s crucial that renters are aware of the signs to look out for so they don’t fall a victim. It’s just as important that property management companies are educated on the types of online scams that are occurring, so they can inform staff on best practices when dealing with clients,” Baird said.

The property management company impersonated by a cyber-scammer says it had instructed its staff to tell every prospective tenant that the property was only listed with its company and if anybody was trying to talk to them about a property elsewhere, it was illegitimate and a scam.

REINZ’s cyber-security awareness partner Phriendly Phishing gave advice for prospective tenants.

  1. Verify the identity of the property manager or owner:Be cautious of people claiming to be property managers or landlords on social media. These platforms can make it easy for scammers to impersonate legitimate entities. If you are searching for property on social media, it is a wise idea to independently look up the official contact information for the property management company they claim to represent and contact them through that official channel to verify their identity. Never rely solely on the contact information provided by the person on social media.
  2. Use official channels of communication: Where possible, use official property listing websites, property management company websites, or official office numbers to make enquiries or schedule viewings. Communicating or closing deals through social media platforms or personal email addresses can be a red flag for potential scams.
  3. Beware of unusually low rent prices: If the rental price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers often lure victims in with incredible deals. Do some research on what a typical rental price should be in the local market. If you see the same property advertised with two different prices, take a closer look at whose listing it really is.
  4. Do not pay money upfront:This includes security deposits, rent, or other fees. If you are emailed a link to pay your deposit, make sure you scan for S.C.A.M — scrutinise the sender, content, and action needed and then manage the situation once you have ascertained it is legitimate or report if it is a scam.
  5. Ensure legal documents are provided:Make sure all agreements are in writing and understand all terms and conditions before signing. A legitimate landlord or property manager should provide a formal tenancy agreement. Be suspicious if they are reluctant or refuse to do so. Again, do not open any attachments or links in email communications, and insist on an in-person meeting to sign a lease. Be careful here though too — scammers are generating official tenancy agreements using the MBIE website. Make sure that the person with whom you are dealing is the owner or authorised to rent the property, it said.

Anne Gibson has been the Herald’s property editor for 23 years, having won many awards, written books and covered property extensively here and overseas.

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