Cunning scammers are preying on vulnerable tenants trying to find rental properties in Victoria’s tight rental market, with victims losing more than $125,000 this year, so far.
Detectives from the Cybercrime Squad are investigating the escalating number of rental scams, more that 60 in 2023 alone, where a property is falsely offered for rent in online advertisements.
Detective Sergeant John Cheyne said scammers were deceitfully convincing victims a property is available to rent.
The scammer falsely offers the property at a cheap rent to gather attention and then victims are persuaded to act quickly by paying a deposit to secure the property.
Since January 1, Victoria Police has received reports of more than 61 rental scams, with a total reported loss of $125,819.23.
“An opportunistic scam like this one can end up hitting everyday Victorians where it really hurts, particularly during a shortage of rental properties and a cost-of-living crisis,” Det Sgt Cheyne said.
“People and families who are simply looking for a place to call home or the vulnerable in our community are being preyed upon and it can have devastating consequences for them.”
Scammers are often able to deceive victims into thinking the properties are legitimately available to rent through sending photos and videos of a home, real addresses, copies of land titles and sometimes scans of passports, which they purport are their own.
They will often ask for one month’s rent and bond upfront, before requesting the victim send through identification documents such as drivers’ licences, Medicare cards and passports.
Once offenders have this information, they will often use the identification to commit identity fraud and scam other unsuspecting victims.
“If something seems too good to be true and the rent seems much too low for the area, it probably is,” Det Sgt Cheyne said.
“You should always inspect a property in person, or if that’s not possible, send someone on your behalf.”
Det Sgt said renters aged 18-29 were the highest reported victims, with more than 40 reports received from that age bracket.
Eleven reports were received in the 30-39 age bracket, four each in 40-49 and 50-59, and one in 60-69 (one report has no age recorded).
The total reported loss is comprised of victims located in Victoria and where persons of interest have not yet been identified for the offending, as well as interstate victims where the person of interest has been identified in Victoria.
It is likely the actual total reported loss is much higher.
It appears most offenders are located within Australia and are not known to the victims.
Investigators are warning people to take steps to protect themselves.
Offenders will often create a sense of urgency by saying the property won’t be available for much longer, or that they have other people waiting to put down a deposit.
They may also say that they are interstate or overseas and consequently the property is unavailable for viewing.
“Never send your personal details early on in the process, and you should never sign a lease agreement or make any payments before seeing the property,” Det Sgt Cheyne said.
“Double check the advertised property information and do your own independent searches on phone numbers, email addresses and names.
“Speak to the person over the phone and arrange a meeting in person if you feel comfortable to do so.
“You should also consider using a reputable accommodation website that offers added protection.”
Det Sgt Cheyne said interstate renters, or those looking from overseas, should ask someone they trust to make the enquiries on their behalf, or consider using a real estate agent.
“If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a rental scam, call your bank immediately and let them know, before reporting the matter via ReportCyber,” he said.
“You should also contact the platform on which you were scammed to inform them of their circumstances.
“Often, matters of this nature are under reported and that can be for a range of reasons, including fear or embarrassment, and sometimes feeling unsure if an offence has occurred.
“I want to assure the community that Victoria Police is committed to investigating these matters and holding offenders to account.
“We encourage anyone who has been subject to a scam such as this to speak to police.”
Anyone with knowledge of these incidents and those responsible is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report at www.crimestoppers.com.au.