Internet fraud is a worldwide problem and it seems that the criminals are always one step ahead. Property scams, particularly those aimed at the rental market, are on the increase, but there are ways to expose criminals and remove the threat.
"We started seeing a marked increase in the number of fraudulent listings in March this year," says, Justin Clarke, CEO Private Property. "We have always offered a free service to the 'landlord community' in South Africa, but we noticed that this service was unfortunately being abused by scam artists who now go to great lengths to mislead genuine tenants looking for a new place to live."
One of the most common examples is when a fraudster uploads a property they do not own, and proceeds to accept deposits from a number of prospective tenants. The duped tenant discovers fairly quickly that something is amiss when he tries to move in and finds out that not only was the property never for rent in the first place, but that there is also someone already living on the premises. Unfortunately, by this stage the con artist is long gone, along with the prospective tenant's money.
"Because we are aware of the tactics criminals use, we have been forced to manually authenticate the landlord against the actual Deeds Office data," he reports. "We have become extremely diligent in ensuring that when we activate a rental, we have matched the person who is loading the listing to a Deeds Office ownership and if not, we investigate by contacting the person loading the listing and determining who they are in relation to the actual owner of the property."
"We act decisively the moment we are informed of a problem of this nature. The listing is immediately removed from the website and we block the 'owner' of the listing from being able to login to their profile on our system. Essentially, this means that they are left with little choice other than to create a new profile, with a new email address and new contact number, if they want to load a new property.
He acknowledges that fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the ways in which they attempt to activate listings on websites. "They are often quite brazen, to the point of chatting to us directly, either online or by telephone, in order to try and get their listings activated."
Private Property is working with the commercial crime division of the SAPS to shut down some of these syndicates and invites anyone with information to come forward. To engage with us in the process, please log your issues with full details on the Private Property “Contact us” tab visible on all pages on the website.
While Private Property will continue to root out the rot, tenants should remain vigilant. Anyone who wants to rent a home should ask to see proof of ownership before they sign a lease or hand over any deposit money. It is also advisable for tenants to ask their bank to issue a guarantee in favour of the landlord.
There is undoubtedly always going to be those who are hell bent on doing things the wrong way by committing fraud in this country. Companies who offer services via the web have a responsibility to protect their clients from these unscrupulous characters, by offering a service that is not only easy to use, but affords them the right levels of protection.