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Warning over 'despicable' real estate scam targeting Aussies on Facebook

Aussie renters are being warned about an online real estate scam targeting Facebook users after one woman came extremely close to falling victim while looking for a place to live.

The New South Wales woman posted in a Central Coast community group on Monday exposing the would-be scammer and urged people looking for rental properties to be careful.

The supposed scam is in the form of a Facebook Marketplace listing, advertising a Umina Beach property for rent. The NSW woman contacted the poster out of interest but an unusual and forceful exchange followed.

Australia, New South Wales, Central Coast, view of Umina Beach.
The Facebook scammer pretended to have a property in Umina Beach (pictured). Source: Getty

Replying to the woman's expression of interest, the so-called scammer – who's posing as a woman named Ryke Moore – demanded she "secure the property now" due to lots of interest. The woman agreed she'd move quickly and lock in the property, but not before seeing it first. She asked for more details including the asking price and was told it was $400 a week with a $1600 bond. She also asked for photos of the house which the would-be scammer provided.

According to screenshots of the exchange, the woman made multiple attempts to lock in a time to see the place, but the scammer kept demanding payment.

"You'll have to sign up your paperwork and make a payment for the bond to secure the property now so I can lodge the bond immediately and send you the receipt," one message read. "Then you can meet me at the property tomorrow so you can have your keys and move in straight away."

Once again, the woman asked to view the property first, and again a demand for payment was made — but what happened next exposed the online scammer.

Facebook real estate scam.
The scam has someone posing as a homeowner renting out their property, but they demand payment upfront. Source: Facebook

The NSW woman said she was blocked by "Ryke Moore" after another request to view the property, so she decided to drive to view the place herself. She saw a car parked outside which indicated someone was home.

"I knocked on this lady’s house and bless her she has been there for a very long time," she wrote on Facebook. "She owns the house and has no intentions of renting the property."

Her exchange with the homeowner seemingly proved she was unaware that her home had been listed for rent online. What's more, the photos the interested tenant was sent weren't accurate. "The photos aren’t even the inside of her property," she said.

'Nasty scam' exploiting desperate Aussies

The worrying move angered many who saw the warning on Facebook particularly at a time when many are so "desperate" for suitable housing. It's a "really nasty scam" Dr Rob Nicholls, Associate Professor of regulation and governance at the UNSW Business school told Yahoo News Australia. "It's scum of the earth activity," he added.

Australia is currently experiencing a turbulent rental crisis with many being forced out of capital cities. Suitable and affordable housing is becoming increasingly difficult to come by, Dr Nicholls pointed out making a scam like this "a real problem".

But this particular scam is "a very old" one he explained. It used to be done as a newspaper advert before social media was introduced.

"You’d phone a number and they'd ask you to send a deposit," he said. "So they'd set the rent a bit lower than you’d expect to pay so it looks really attractive."

Modern residential buildings, apartment buildings, residential buildings.
The rental crisis has left many Australians desperate to find suitable and affordable housing. Source: Getty

How to spot an online scam

Scams of this nature often have two things — a sense of urgency and a call to action. This one appears to have both — much like the recent 'Mum and dad' scam. If you can identify these right away you're probably pretty safe, and not at risk of falling victim, Dr Nicholls warns.

If the price looks too good to be true, it often is, he explained. In this case, the woman who shared the warning on Facebook admitted $400 for "a nice property" like this one "didn’t sound right to begin with".

Some people on Facebook suggested Ryke Moore's Facebook profile was fake. Generally, Dr Nicholls said there are a few ways you can tell.

"If they don’t have a picture that looks exceptionally well shot, it’s probably been taken from the internet," he said. "Or if they don’t have a face in their profile, or have a very limited profile, so everything is hidden except for their name, they are things to be suspicious of."

While it's becoming more increasingly common for properties to be advertised on Facebook Marketplace, Dr Nicholls said if you really want to be safe "always rent through a real estate agent". He also urges people to report such scams to the ACCC or Fair Trading.

'Despicable' act slammed on Facebook

The person behind the scam was labelled a "common thief" by some online, with many calling for it to be reported to the police.

"What a disgusting poor excuse of a human being she is! I wonder how many people have paid the bond and rent in advance?" one said. "Thank goodness you were savvy enough to not pay her any money. I hope you find a nice rental soon."

"What a despicable thing to do!" another raged. "I hope nobody falls for it….especially those desperate to secure housing."

Others said it's not the first they've heard of property scams.

"I had a few of those when I was looking for a place. Some disgusting people out there. I knocked on the door as well on a couple of places and the owners had no idea," one person shared.

"There’s so many of these sadly, because so many people are in desperate need for a house they like to take advantage of them."

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