16 People Caught for Allegedly Lending Bank Accounts in Rental Scams Worth $1.3M

Rental scams seem to be on the rise in Singapore. Just recently, a woman paid S$10,000 to rent a flat but got ghosted by its owner, who rented it to other people instead. 

In the newest case, 16 men and women are under investigation for allegedly participating in a rental scam after their bank accounts received money from the scam.

Here’s what happened.

The Scam Itself

According to a statement by the Singapore Police Force on 14 March, the Anti-Scam Command Division launched a five-day-long islandwide law enforcement operation, from 9 March to 13 March. 

This was following arrests linked to multiple recent rental scams, involving nine men and four women aged 18 to 56. Three other women aged 21 to 27 are also assisting the police in their investigations. 

A preliminary investigation revealed that the scammers had posed as real estate agents and asked their victims to pay a fee to secure a housing unit, even before they’d viewed the house. 

The scammers had directed the 16 people involved to receive the fraudulent funds with their bank accounts and return it in cash to the scammers, and in turn, would be paid for their help.

The accounts allegedly received funds from around 480 rental scams, totalling 1.3 million in earnings.

The photograph attached to SPF’s statement showed that the police had seized some cash as evidence during the five-day operation.

If caught assisting others in receiving proceeds from a crime, offenders can be jailed for up to 10 years, fined $500,00 or both. 

How Rental Scams Happen

In these sorts of scams, scammers post fake property listings on property websites and contact victims while masquerading as property agents. 

Victims are then asked to pay a deposit to secure an appointment or view the property, and told that these deposits are refundable.

They are provided with bank accounts or phone numbers to transfer the money to.

Typically, these scammers use WhatsApp as their chosen platform—victims are directed to WhatsApp chats from spoofed phone numbers with the +65 prefix after clicking on links in the fraudulent advertisements. 

Scammers use photos, names, and licence numbers of legitimate property agents found on property websites to deceive victims, who only find out they’ve been scammed after scammers cut contact and run off with their money.

How To Protect Yourself

To prevent involvement in illegal activity, you should refrain from allowing others to deposit or transfer money into your bank account, even if they offer to pay you for it. 

Regarding rental scams, payments should not be made before a house viewing, because property agents are not allowed to handle cash transactions. 

The police advise the public to look out for numbers with the +65 prefix, especially on WhatsApp and property listings on non-mainstream platforms.

To verify the legitimacy of a listing, you should ensure that the listed contact number is the same as the one on the Council for Estate Agencies’ website. 

You can head to this website and key in the agent’s (or scammer’s) number (under salesperson, not estate agent).

If you have information regarding these scams or think you’ve been scammed, call the Anti-Scam hotline at 1800-255-0000 or visit www.police.gov.sg/iwitness to report.