Property scam hits Bay


Creative crooks are ripping off advertisements from credible property management companies to get Tauranga flat hunters to give up their personal details.

A scamming attempt last week that almost sucked in one Tauranga woman has prompted a warning for prospective renters to think twice before disclosing personal information.

The woman, who asked only to be known as Elizabeth, placed a wanted notice for a three-bedroom house in Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty Times and on a rental property website last month.

Elizabeth's advertisement was answered via email by a person calling themselves "Felicity" who told her she had a rental property available and to get back to her if she was still looking.

Once Elizabeth replied, she received an email back which included photographs of a three-bedroom house in 17th Ave available for $265 per week and basic details about the property's features and location.

Felicity told her she had just vacated the property to settle down in the United Kingdom as her husband had "just gotten a good job opportunity" there.

"We really want the property to be in good hands, it is available for both long and short term," the scammer told her.

When she phoned a provided UK number for the landlord, Elizabeth spoke to a man who said he was Felicity's husband.

Elizabeth said the man had an Indian accent and sounded pleasant over the phone.

Soon after, the scammer emailed her an application form requiring her name, date of birth, telephone number and contact details for a referee.

The email from Felicity stated how Elizabeth was "so lucky" and that there had been interest from other people.

But Elizabeth smelled a rat when she phoned back a second time to ask for the address of the home.

"I rang up and said, 'hello, it's Ellie, can you tell me the number of the house?' and he sort of went 'hello' and then the phone cut off. I rang again a couple of times but the phone was just dead."

She was then startled to find the same pictures of the house listed on Trade Me and on the website of its property managers Quinovic - for $330 per week.

At that point, Elizabeth contacted a surprised Tauranga Quinovic principal Juli Anne Tolley, who told her that all applications and requests should have been made through her. Elizabeth then reported the scam to the police.

"I think if I would have filled that form in, they would have thought, 'good, now she's getting sucked in', and then asked me to send them $500 bond," Elizabeth told the Bay of Plenty Times.

"The real red flag, I think, was the price. It was just way too cheap. The other red flag was that they didn't have anyone here to show me the house. Most people overseas would have an aunt or an uncle here to see me."

When the Bay of Plenty Times phoned the would-be landlord and asked him why he had tried to deceive Elizabeth, he hung up.

Ms Tolley said it was clear the scammer had copied photographs of the house from Quinovic's online listings.

It was the first time Ms Tolley was aware of the company being targeted and believed the scam would have led to either identity theft or Elizabeth being duped out of a large sum of cash.

Quinovic has managed the property for the past few years and Ms Tolley said the owners lived locally. She said Elizabeth had done the right thing by asking to see the property.

"People should look at properties in advance before doing anything. We always encourage people to do that and to ask a lot of questions about the property."

Tauranga Rentals principal Dan Lusby said flat hunters should be careful about the agencies or property websites they used to find properties and suggested brokers that were members of the Real Estate Institute.

Trade Me trust and safety manager Chris Budge encouraged flat hunters to write down notes during conversations and, if they believed they had encountered scammers, to record as many web pages and phone numbers as possible.

This made for a "deep electronic footprint" which authorities could use to prosecute.

In Auckland last year, several people fronted up bond money after being shown through an apartment by a scammer masquerading as the landlord. Mr Budge said when they turned up to move into the apartment, the tenant - who was implicated in the scam - told them he lived there and knew nothing about it. In another incident, a Wellington couple shifting to Auckland were swindled after scammers advertising a bogus property enticed them to pay six months' rent in advance to receive a third of the price off their annual rental fee.

"From our perspective, if you're going to be sending any money to anyone, you first need to get a bond certificate and also make sure you get the rental agreement," Mr Budge said.

But Mr Budge admitted there was nothing rental websites could do to stop scammers from copying pictures.

"We do everything we can but it all really comes down to common sense of people. If you think it's dodgy and it smells, don't send money - no matter how good the deal is."

SIGNS OF A SCAM

The property is advertised at a low rent comparative to the market.

The "owner" will claim to be overseas, and ask for a deposit and rent money to be sent via a wire transfer.

The "owner" will be a reverend or another trustworthy figure of the community.

REMEMBER

Never send money via a wire service unless you know and trust the person completely.

Don't take a property unless you have viewed it, in person, with the owner or agent.

Use your common sense and do some research on the market. If something doesn't feel right then it's probably a scam.

If you come across a fake advertisement, report it immediately to the website owner and report it to Scamwatch at www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz

Source: Ministry of Consumer Affairs

- Bay of Plenty Times

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