There’s been a spike in cases of scammers impersonating real agents to cheat potential tenants of their deposits. What are some of the tell-tale signs and how to avoid such disasters?
Rental scams involving scammers impersonating property agents have been on the rise in Singapore lately. According to the Singapore Police Force (SPF), at least S$3.9 million have been swindled from 997 victims since January this year.
Various property agencies have also said that scammers have stolen the identities and impersonated their property agents. Meanwhile, property agents who had their identities stolen unknowingly also had to endure heated calls from scammed victims after they were ghosted by scammers.
How the scams work
According to the SPF, scammers would upload fake listings on “alternative platforms”. When the victims click on the advertisements, they would receive WhatsApp messages from unknown numbers with the “+65” prefix.
Using stolen credentials from property agents on property websites (names, photos, license numbers, etc.), these scammers would then impersonate property agents and deceive victims into paying a refundable deposit to secure a home viewing appointment.
They will then provide bank account numbers or phone numbers for the victims to transfer money. Victims will only know that they’ve been tricked once the scammers become uncontactable.
Another type of scam involves the scammer sending a tenancy agreement to the victim to be signed, and would ask for a deposit to “secure the unit first”.
These scammers also tend to target those who are unfamiliar with the property market in Singapore, such as first-time tenants, foreigners, and tenants who are desperate for a place to stay.
How to avoid property scams
To avoid these scams, you can take the following measures:
- Never send money before a house viewing — agents aren’t authorised to handle cash transactions and payment isn’t required before viewing the property
- Always view the unit personally or verify with the owner to ensure that the listing exists; scammers always use photos of renovated homes by stealing them from other listings
- Also be wary of numbers with the “+65” prefix, especially on WhatsApp. Since April 2020, Telcos have added the “+65” prefix as part of anti-scam efforts to alert the public that there were being contacted from overseas
- Also avoid property listings that are not on reputable platforms such as Huttons, ERA, PropNex, OrangeTee, PropertyGuru, 99.co, etc.
- Verify the agent’s details on the Council of Estate Agencies’ (CEA) public register. All licensed agents in Singapore are required to register with the CEA through a licensed property agency, and each agent has a unique registration number (e.g. R123456A).
- You can do a quick search on CEA’s public register using the property agent’s number or phone number in the advertisement to verify if the agent is registered with the CEA. The public register allows you to access the agent’s details such as the agent’s name, CEA number, disciplinary records, registration period, and more
- If the property agent’s profile does not pop up or doesn't match the search, it’s likely that the advertisement is fake, or the agent is an illegal practising agent
- Inconsistent property information: look at the photos and read the description to verify the legitimacy of the listing. If the information and photos don’t match, it’s likely to be a fake. For example, in one of the scams, a 3-bedroom unit was listed to be 140 sq ft in size, which is the size of a 1-bedder
- Verify the property ownership via the Singapore Land Authority's (SLA) INLIS website (for private properties). For HDB properties, you can verify the ownership by asking for the Service & Conservancy Charges (S&CC) letters, or on HDB's website
- If you have any information related to the crime, you may call the police hotline at 1800-255-0000 or submit it online on the iwitness page. The information submitted will be kept strictly confidential
- For information on scams, visit the Scam Alert website or call the Anti-Scam hotline at 1800-722-6688
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