Free online advertising sites may well have proven to be a boon for honest people wanting to sell goods, but they also appeal to scammers who are out to con the unwary out of their hard-earned money.
The Internet has changed the way most of us do business. Online shopping has become the norm and most of us click away quite merrily without much thought. There are, of course, many Internet sites where this isn't a problem, but there are times when it is wise to exercise more than a little caution.
With the mid-year break fast approaching, many people are starting to investigate their holiday options and a ‘thaw out’ at the coast in the heart of the long, cold winter seems like a great idea. Yet this market, as with many others, has become a bit of a magnet for the unscrupulous.
"It never fails to amaze me how gullible some people are when it comes to money matters," comments John Roberts, CEO of the Just Property Group. In our fast-moving consumer environment where social media has shortened response times, people are now more susceptible than ever before to scams, one of the latest of which is operated by fly-by-night letting agents.
The South African coastline offers a huge opportunity for these unethical businesses who over-promise and under-deliver their holiday letting offerings. At the beginning of the year, the media revealed how a number of people who had rented accommodation for their year-end holiday either arrived to find that others were occupying the accommodation they had 'rented', or that the property wasn't what they had been promised when they paid the deposit.
Roberts explains that, "These deals are mostly offered by agents you never meet; whose offices you have never visited and whose sole purpose is to lure you into paying a deposit on a property on which they have no mandate. It will also be the last you hear from them." These agents primarily operate by falsely advertising rental properties, usually new developments, on the Internet. Often the scammers pressure clients into paying a deposit, saying that the property is in demand, but that is the last they will see of the money and the property.
"We would suggest that you use a reputable letting company or a national brand to avoid being conned," says Roberts. If you are in doubt, the local tourist junction boards will carry information about reputable companies. "Also be sure to sign the lease before paying a deposit. If the letting agent asks you to deposit money into a bank account that is not a recognisable company bank account - don't. Ask the agency to provide you with proof that your deposit is being kept in an interest bearing account," he suggests.
Tell-tale signs that you are dealing with a scammer:
• A deal that is too good to be true is often a scam.
• If an advert has only the person's name and cell number, be wary. All reputable companies have websites with landline numbers.
• The lease agreements and documentation are presented on unbranded stationery and the bank account into which the deposit must be paid does not match the company's name.
• Being pressurised into paying a deposit by the agent because "there is a waiting list and other tenants want the property," should raise some red flags.
Alternatively, visit our Advice Centre for the latest scam emails to watch out for.