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Current as of 26/12/14 10:20AM NZST

Scammers cash in on rental shortage

By Katherine Irvine

A listing for a non-existent flat that Trade Me says was a scam. Photo / Supplied
A listing for a non-existent flat that Trade Me says was a scam. Photo / Supplied

Scammers are targeting people desperate to find new homes in Auckland's rental property shortage.

Trade Me yesterday warned tenants hunting in the crowded Auckland rental market to be on guard against bogus property listings.

During the weekend Trade Me contacted users who had viewed a listing for a one-bedroom apartment on Princes Wharf, telling them it was a scam.

The non-existent property - listed for $250 a week by first-time trader "susan4141q" - was described as a one double-bedroom, one bathroom furnished apartment and came with photos showing an exposed wooden floor kitchen, a modern bathroom and an outdoor entertaining area.

A similar, genuine apartment in the same complex is advertised on Trade Me for $520 a week.

The scam was discovered after the Herald revealed Auckland's worsening rental market - prices have increased up to 24 per cent in some city-fringe areas and demand is outstripping supply.

That has forced some desperate tenants to resort to extreme measures, such as offering to pay six months of rent in advance, to secure a property.

A lack of new construction and a booming population unable to get on the property ladder are among factors getting the blame.

Trade Me trust and safety manager Chris Budge said the bulk of fake property listings were listed by overseas scammers who were trying to lure tenants into giving away their personal details or paying an up-front fee.

He said scammers would often offer incentives, such as a reduced weekly rate in exchange for three months rent up-front, on properties they had no right to rent or properties that did not exist.

Mr Budge said: "Unfortunately this is a worldwide issue. Usually the scammers come from overseas."

Renters should not make any tenancy arrangements or payments without going through Trade Me procedures, as scammers would often offer to reduce the rent to conduct business outside off the website.

Renters should also be extremely wary of sending money through overseas transfer agencies such as Western Union or Paypal, he said.

"Normally, it's 'please send $1000 through Western Union because I'm currently overseas on holiday or my mum looks after my property in New Zealand, I look after the finances in London'," Mr Budge said.

"What happens is that within eight hours organised crime with stolen passports has gone in, picked up the money and it's disappeared never to be found again."

Last month, the Herald reported the case of renter Muhammand Nadeem, who was left $1300 out of pocket after he responded to a listing on Trade Me for an apartment in central Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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