Scam that’s cost desperate Aussies $126k

·3-min read
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos MARCH 3RD, 2022 : Rental crisis in Melbourne. Picture : NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly
Rental scams are proving costly in Victoria. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly

Cold-hearted scammers are preying on vulnerable renters amid the cost-of-living crisis, with reports of rental scams increasing as vacancy rates sink to record lows across Victoria.

Detectives from Victoria Police’s cybercrime squad have seen a rise in reports of such scams, most often when a property is falsely advertised online.

In 2023 so far, police have received reports of more than 61 rental scams, with a reported loss of $125,819, although the true cost is likely to be “much higher”.

Cybercrime squad Detective Sergeant John Cheyne said matters of this nature were often underreported for a variety 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,” he said.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos MARCH 3RD, 2022 : Rental crisis in Melbourne. Picture : NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly
At least $125,819 have been lost in rental scams in Victoria this year so far. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly

The losses of nearly $126,000 pertain only to instances where persons of interest are yet to be identified and in circumstances where potential offenders have been identified in Victoria while the victim is located interstate.

Scammers are now using trusted and well-known property websites to prey on unsuspecting victims, luring them in with the promise of affordable rent and quality accommodation.

Usually the victim will be coerced to make payments quickly to secure the property, with it being common practice to pay a bond and the first month’s rent upfront.

False advertisements can look very convincing, often posted with photos and videos of the home, as well as real addresses and sometimes even fake scans of documents.

Scammers will generally ask for a bond and rental payments upfront, sometimes collecting personal information such as scans of passports, drivers’ licenses and Medicare cards in the process.

If such personal information is obtained, scammers are also able to commit identity fraud, in some instances using the fake persona to scam other victims.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos 25 MARCH 2023:, housing, rent, rental crisis.People are seen attending a rental viewing in Ascot Vale., Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Ascui
Most of the reported victims were aged 18 to 29. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Ascui

“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,” Sergeant Cheyne said.

“If something seems too good to be true and the rent seems much too low for the area, it probably is.”

While young Aussies are feeling the cost-of-living pinch the most, those aged 18 to 29 were also the most affected by rental scams in the state.

More than 40 of the reports received by Victoria Police were from this age bracket, while 11 were received in the 30 to 39 group and four in both the 40 to 49 and 50-59 groups.

Only one report has been received from a Victorian aged 60 to 69.

Police believe in most instances the scammers are located within Australia and are not known to the victims and have urged prospective renters to take extra precautions in their search for a home.

“(You should never be) signing a lease agreement or making payment before having viewed a property,” a police spokesperson said.

“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.

“You should always inspect a property in person or by sending someone on your behalf.”

Anyone who has fallen victim to a cybercrime can make a report on ReportCyber or with the eSafety Commissioner.

Police have urged anyone with knowledge of a rental scam to contact Crime Stoppers or to submit a confidential crime report online.