Digital Staff | 22 Sep 2020

The pandemic has seen a spike in a number of different scams.

And now the consumer watchdog has issued a new warning over real estate fraud, which is up 76 per cent compared to this time last year – costing Australians more than $300,000.

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Fraudsters are posting fake rental listings at heavily reduced prices, and victims are tricked into paying upfront deposits, or sharing personal details through fake “tenant application forms” – this includes copies of things like passports and bank statements.

Some scammers will even impersonate real estate agents and organise fake inspections.

In both cases, victims are told they’ll receive house keys which never arrive.

Fraudsters are posting fake rental listings at heavily reduced prices. Credit: Getty Images

Australians aged between 25 and 34 reported the most rental scams so far in 2020 – and the most reports came from New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.

In one scam, a fraudster impersonated a doctor living in Sweden who only offered virtual inspections – and then requested bond money.

To avoid getting conned, inspecting the property first and checking the agency is licenced are two things that can help reduce potential losses.

How to stay safe

“Try to view a property in person before paying any bond or rent money to landlords or real estate agents,” said ACCC Deputy Commissioner Delia Rickard.

“In areas of Victoria under COVID-19 level four restrictions this is not possible, but you can help protect yourself by doing an online search to confirm the property exists and, if dealing with an agent, checking that the agent you are dealing with is licensed.

“Scammers often rely on email communications to avoid identification, do an independent search for a phone number and speak to the property manager over the phone or arrange a meeting in person.”

If you have been targeted, it’s important to act quickly.

Contact your bank and also get in touch with police.

Find out how to make a report and where to get help on the Scamwatch website.