Desperate Geraldton renter targeted in Gumtree grift

Elise Van AkenGeraldton Guardian

A desperate prospective Geraldton tenant has been targeted in a scam, which asked for rent in advance on a stolen property listing.

It comes as WA’s rental market heads into a crisis, with the Real Estate Institute WA reporting listings across WA had fallen to below one per cent for the first time in 40 years.

SEE ALSO: Geraldton rental vacancies at an all-time low

The Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety was alerted to a scam last week when a woman looking to rent in the city posted on the trading website Gumtree asking what was available.

Her post was answered by someone claiming to be an engineer who had moved overseas and was looking for a tenant not to make money, but to take care of their house while they were away, for just $150 a week.

Geraldton’s median unit rental price per week is $200.

Their message sent through photos which, on later investigation, appeared to have been copied from a legitimate listing with a local real estate agent online.

The scammer also asked how much rent the would-be tenant was willing to pay in advance, which Consumer Protection Mid West senior regional officer Danni Bloomfield said made consumers desperately looking for somewhere to live in a tough market vulnerable.

“The scam works like this — the hopeful tenant is sent pictures of the property and answers a few questions, before being informed that they are the successful applicant,” she said.

“They are even invited to drive-by the property to view it externally, with excuses such as COVID-19 or the owner being overseas provided as to why they can’t go inside. Then the money-grab begins — in order to ‘secure’ the property, the victim is told they need to pay the bond and rent upfront via bank transfer.”

DMIRS was aware of nine victims who have lost more than $27,060 to rental scams in the first nine months of this year, a 320 per cent rise on 2019’s figures when four victims lost $6440 in the whole 12-month period.

The post also included an application form which asked for personal information including the applicant’s name, phone number, previous and current addresses, their spouse’s name and where they were employed.

Ms Bloomfield said providing that information could have put the scam victim at risk of identity theft.

Prospective tenants can protect themselves by being wary of properties being rented for well below current rental value, only dealing with landlords you can meet face-to-face or with a licensed real estate agent and always inspecting the property prior to signing a lease agreement.

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