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Watch NZH Local Focus: Scammer targets Taupo's homeless

By Kaysha Brownlie

Christine Preece had been hunting for a rental home for her family for three months.

So when someone messaged her about a place on a Facebook Rent and Board page - she was over the moon.

"I thought oh, wow, there are some nice people out there," Ms Preece says.

The place was for sale - but she says the man on Facebook told her he'd take it off the market if she got in quick.

The 46 year old went through an open home - then hastily borrowed $400 from a friend to pay partial bond as security.

"He kind of harassed me a bit...and he wanted me to do screen shots of the payment made and he said it was going to his trust fund, his accountant, and he gave me their bank account details."

But then Ms Preece didn't see, nor hear from the alleged landlord, again.

And there was no tenancy agreement.

"He said his accountant would get it for me and I gave him my email address and he said that he had and there was nothing in there."

Suddenly it dawned on her, she'd probably been scammed.

Ms Preece becomes emotional when she thinks about her situation, saying she's, "just about had enough, I've had enough of just trying to get by".

After sleeping at a friend's - and in a van, another friend has come to Ms Preece's aid.

Her friend, Katherine Scoon says: "I had to help because it was the right thing to do."

There are now nine sleeping at the three-bedroom home, with another two moving in soon.

"We're genuinely desperate," Ms Preece says.

"We don't have a lot of money and I work for everything that I've got so it's absolutely disgusting that someone can come and take advantage of that."

Ms Preece says she did ask the agent at the open home if the man she was dealing with was the owner - they said they'd check - but they didn't get back to her.

Following up again herself, she got confirmation from the real estate agent that the person claiming to own the house did in fact not.

She posted a warning to a public page on social media warning others not to fall victim in the same way she had.

Westerman Property Solutions Director Ben Westerman says there is high demand for rentals in Taupo, reflecting a nationwide issue.

"There's like 10-15 people turning up to every viewing," Ms Preece says.

Mr Westerman says the buoyant sales market is putting extra pressure on the rental market.

"My advice for anyone in the market for a rental property is to certainly not leave until the last week or two before you have to be out."

Constable Ben Jones says a scam of this nature is uncommon, and an investigation has now been opened.

"Don't be afraid to ask for a contract and ask to meet the agent in person. A landlord is likely to have a local contact or agent you can phone or visit if they are not in the area."

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