Remember the “good old days” when the onus was on the landlord to ensure that a tenant was above board, had a solid credit history and wasn't prone to moonlight flights? Now, while landlords still have to be vigilant so, it seems, do tenants.
A recent post on a well-known private investigator’s Facebook page highlighted the importance of double checking all the facts before parting with hard-earned cash to rent a property. A property was advertised on a well-known free website. While these sites generally work very well, it pays to remember that there will always be those who will chance their luck – which could prove disastrous if the site doesn’t keep tabs on advertisers in order to stop any illegal activities.
The scam in question involved a two bedroom property in Florida Road in Durban. On responding to the advert, a prospective tenant was told that yes, the flat was still available, but as there were a number of people who were very interested in the unit the applicant should put down a deposit. The landlord was out of town and as such wouldn't be able to show the flat until a later date. He did however tell the prospective tenant where the flat was situated. This hopeful tenant drove past the block of flats, liked what he saw and said that he wanted to view the property. The landlord then said that the property could only be viewed later in the week and that two people who had viewed the flat earlier had indicated that they wanted to rent the premises.
This prospective tenant then started to panic. He really wanted the flat and, having supplied all his banking details and proof of employment, was told that he qualified. He was again urged to put down a deposit in order to secure the rental.
The scamster had his sales-talk down pat and told the prospective tenant how he had used a well-known estate agency to market the rental property before deciding to rent it out himself. This, coupled with the fact that there were supposedly so many other people interested in the property eventually led the prospective tenant to pay the deposit. At this point, the phone calls stopped and the landlord started to communicate via SMS. Arrangements were made to view the property but the landlord always had excuses for missing the appointments.
Eventually, the prospective tenant reported the matter to the police.
This story is concerning on a number of levels. Firstly, the complainant stated that the scmster was advertising a number of properties to let. Secondly, the rental and deposit being asked were not paltry sums. Thirdly, the reasons why the flat couldn’t be viewed until later had sounded plausible enough to the prospective tenant.
As South Africans we are all aware that there are con artists out there and we generally manage to avoid phoning the people who SMS us stating that we have won the Euro Millions Lottery. We may also give those who email telling us that we have been selected to receive millions from a deceased estate from some bloke in Ghana a wide berth.
However, it pays to remember that con artists constantly up the ante and will always be out there trying to coerce honest people to part with their hard earned cash.
Here are a few pointers to help prevent you from becoming yet another scam statistic:
Try to find out what checks and balances a website has in place in order to ascertain whether or not a listing can be trusted.
Always deal with a well-known website that not only has a solid reputation in the industry, but which goes all out to root out con artists and scamsters before posting listings.
Do not pay over any money until you have personally viewed a premises and signed a lease agreement.
Do not allow yourself to be blindsided by stories of other tenants wanting to rent the property. This is a common ruse used by scam artists.
Remember that if it sounds too good to be true then in all likelihood it is, and you face a real danger of being taken for a ride.
Keep your wits about you. Don't be misled by smooth talkers and you’ll not only find the right accommodation, you'll actually be able to move in.
If you suspect that someone is attempting to perpetrate a crime, contact the website directly and report the matter as soon as possible.