Many people have either been the victim of an online scam themselves or know someone who has. While the Internet has certainly made our life easier on the one hand, it has also opened up a world of opportunities for fraudsters on the other side and one has to remain vigilant at all times not to fall prey to online property scams.
Here’s what you need to know and some tips to protect yourself according to Steve van Wyk, Seeff’s MD in Centurion:
The modus operandi many scamsters use is to steal photographs from legit property websites and to then showcase and advertise the same property at a reduced rate on a different web page while pretending to be an “agent” with a reputable agency.
When the client requests a viewing the “agent” will have many excuses why this is not possible, ranging from the keys being misplaced to the landlord being abroad (some “agents” however are so sophisticated that they actually find ways to gain access to the property, but this is a different story all together!)
The “agent” will however request a deposit to be paid upfront without the property being viewed as to “secure” the so called property and would even arrange for the keys to be picked up at a certain time at the property real estate’s office. Of course when the client pitches up to fetch the key the agent either does not exist or an actual agent has fallen prey to identity theft!
The best way to avoid being the victim of a scenario like the one described above is to follow the following tips:
- You have to be well informed about market related prices within the area you are looking to rent. If a property is advertised way below the market related price for that area it should raise your concerns. Why would an agent or landlord want less for a property than what they can actually get for it?
- If you found a “bargain” online you should call the property agency to find out if the deal is for real. Don’t call the number at the bottom of the ad because this number could lead to a fake office. Rather find the actual head office number, call there and ask the receptionist to give you the number of the specific branch you are looking for.
- Be wary of agents and landlord who seem too eager or pushy to get you to live in their property or one they are marketing. A legit agent or landlord will always conduct the necessary checks and will not be too disappointed when you don’t show much interest in the property; they will not try to persuade you to live there or to let certain checks “slide” because they “trust you”.
- If the agent is constantly making up excuses as to why they are not able to meet you or show you the property, you should also be worried. The chances are good that they don’t have access to the property and are stalling for time until they can think of a clever way to get you to pay the deposit.
- Always play on the safe side and call the agency you are dealing with and speak to the agent on the office phone – not their cell phone.
- It remains best to look for a property on a legit property agency website rather than some random website.
- Never pay a deposit before you have viewed a property. Ever!