Advice and Opinion

Property practitioners’ reputations at risk with targeted scams

The property industry is leaving the pandemic behind and entering boom times again with the rental sector getting back on track as homeowners and tenants seek to downscale, upscale or sell. While this is great news for property practitioners, scammers have jumped at the opportunity to defraud unsuspecting tenants.

MD of property management company WatchProp, Craig Coetzee, says not only tenants suffer but reputable property practitioners bear the brunt of angry tenants who have been duped, some having their reputations destroyed by social media commentary arising out of fraudulent transactions.

Scammers prey on tenants using names of property practitioners or landlords, who are left to deal with unhappy tenants. With social media a platform that can easily destroy a reputation, and Google making it just about impossible to remove adverse comments, it seems that tenants and property practitioners are faced with a backlash resulting from rising rental fraud.

Coetzee suggests caution when concluding a contract to safeguard the tenant and property practitioner. Affordable rentals are popular and becoming scarce as demand exceeds supply, forcing tenants to take the first opportunity available:

Be on the look out for scams. Fraudsters impersonate property practitioners. Scammers often have access to homes to show the property and they will provide fake documentation, even exact replicas of reputable property brands. They will even place adverts using existing imagery on a legitimate website and place this on different platforms.

Customers caught out by fraudsters. Fraudsters are excellent at persuading, and they will use any method to get you to pay a deposit before signing an agreement. They also have access to your personal details from the forms you complete.

The signs of being scammed are hard to identify. Scammers imitate property professionals precisely. Even having cars with branding, business cards, and the correct documentation.

Coetzee says potential tenants must do their due diligence:

Only deal with reputable property practitioners. Check online for the correct website and address. Reputable brands will have secure sites. Meet your agent and verify their credentials.

Photos. Most property practitioners have photographs of themselves on their business profiles, business cards, Facebook, and LinkedIn profiles, even on their vehicles and bus shelters and street pole adverts. These help you to recognise the person.

“Many interested” or “offer for today only” tricks. These are signs of a scam. Never be rushed into signing. Do your research before completing any documentation. You must be totally comfortable to sign and 100% sure you have the right information.

Never pay a deposit until you have checked everything out. You will never be asked for a deposit until all paperwork is completed, documents signed, and you are approved as a tenant.

Pay into a Trust Account. Reputable property brands have Trust Accounts for deposits. These accounts are strictly regulated and audited.

Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority. Property practitioners must be registered with the PPRA (old Estate Agency Affairs Board) and have a Fidelity Funds Certificate (FFC). Call them to verify a property practitioner is registered.

Never give personal information over the phone. We all know of the many phone scammers. Be vigilant. Never offer personal information over the phone.

Never click on a link in an email. You should also know that you never click on links unless you are sure of the source. Even then, rather visit the website and go to the relevant page, referred to in the email, from there.

Coetzee adds that consumers should be on the side of caution when it comes to rentals. Dealing with reputable property brands is advisable as their track records are sound and chances of a fraudulent transaction is literally zero.