Unsuspecting tenants are losing money handed over for a new rental property to scamsters pretending to be property managers or landlords.

Kohanga reo teacher and mother of four, Lisa Clayton, answered an advertisement for a rental property in Auckland and paying $1600 to a woman she thought was the owner, but the date she was to move in kept being delayed.

The scam came to light when she decided to go to the property and found a tenant in residence who had moved in three months earlier.

In another recent case in Christchurch, a tenant responded to an advertisement for a rental property and was told to lodge bond and rent money to an account and the keys would be delivered.

But the tenant found the same property advertised with a legitimate property manager.

The scamster had taken the photos, property details and address from Trade Me and transposed them into their own advertisement.

Online advertising of rental premises has made it easier for scamsters to prey on naive tenants, says Helen Gatonyi, manager of the Tenants Protection Association.

She says tenants need to check that the landlord or property manager is genuine.

If they have any doubts they can call the Tenants Protection Association or the Department of Building and Housing.

Martin Evans, president of the Property Investors Federation, says some property managers allow people to take keys to view a property unaccompanied, which gives would-be scamsters the opportunity to make copies and start advertising the property themselves.

"It's easy enough to do - just get the keys and start advertising the property, because properties are vacant for quite a long time sometimes at this time of the year, especially with the recession, and especially apartments."

Safe as houses

Martin Evans says there are steps tenants can take to help ensure they are dealing with a bona fide property manager or landlord.

Look at a property manager's credentials and see if they are affiliated to a real estate company or if they are a member of the Independent Property Managers Association (IPMA).

Tenants should ask to see the property manager's membership card to ensure it is current for that year.

When dealing directly with a landlord, tenants can ask to see their current membership card for their local property investors' association.