World Cup visitors hit by rental rip-off

By Nicholas Jones

Mark Carmichael and Rachel Duffy lost a $2000 bond and a cellphone. Photo / Richard Robinson
Mark Carmichael and Rachel Duffy lost a $2000 bond and a cellphone. Photo / Richard Robinson

A couple nearly pulled the plug on their stay in New Zealand after losing thousands of dollars in a property scam and having a phone stolen within weeks of arriving in the country.

Mark Carmichael and his girlfriend Rachel Duffy came to New Zealand in May to live in Auckland during the Rugby World Cup, intending to save enough to travel the rest of the country afterwards.

The English couple, both 25, saw a two-bedroom apartment advertised for rent on a flyer in their downtown backpackers' accommodation. They contacted a woman who said she was the landlord.

Mr Carmichael said the woman seemed genuine.

"She gave us the whole history [of the apartment], she told us she bought it five years ago for $180,000. She told us all about problems with previous tenants and cheques bouncing - she was really convincing," he said.

The couple and their friends signed tenancy papers and handed over a $2040 bond before moving in.

But alarm bells rang when their "landlord" failed to deliver new lightbulbs and bedding, and stopped answering her phone.

"We contacted the building manager. He explained the current tenant had recently moved out but he had no news on who was moving in."

Mr Carmichael said the penny dropped when the building manager's description of the apartment's previous tenant matched the woman they had dealt with.

The group have since moved into another apartment, and were forced to come up with another $2000 bond.

"It put us on the back foot from day one. We actually had to borrow a couple of hundred pounds from back home," Mr Carmichael said.

To make matters worse, Mr Carmichael's phone was stolen two days after the scam.

"We nearly went home, to be honest. We didn't have the best couple of weeks at the start."

Landlord Elspeth Blakeley told the Herald her partner's signature was forged by the previous tenant to get her own $1000 bond back from the Department of Building and Housing.

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs' Scamwatch service has had 43 reports of flatmate-related scams this year.

A spokesman said in most cases scammers requested money upfront to secure properties listed online, which turned out not to exist.

Last year the Herald reported on a property-fraud ring which netted at least 19 victims in central Auckland.

Detective Senior Sergeant Hywel Jones of Auckland City Police said prospective tenants should check with building managers whether landlords are known to them.

- NZ Herald

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