In recent years, Singapore has seen a rise in rental scams.
These scams involve con artists who pretend to be legitimate property agents.
This couple’s photos and room information have allegedly been stolen for a rental scam listing.
37-year-old Mr He told Shin Min Daily News that he and his wife had planned to rent out an empty room in his home at the end of February 2023.
Thus, the couple posted the room’s rental information on Facebook.
They found someone to rent the room on 9 May, and the new tenants will move into the room in July.
Since the room was rented out, Mr He removed the original post from various Facebook groups.
However, on 19 May, he was shocked to find that someone had used the photos he had initially put up for a rental listing.
According to Mr He, the post contained multiple photos of the room and was uploaded to numerous Facebook groups regarding room rental.
Mr He also noted that the person had set the room at a lower rental rate, probably to scam those desperate to find a rental space.
While the couple had set the room’s rent to be $950, the person who reuploaded their photos set it to only $650.
Mr He said the person would probably ask interested potential tenants to pay a deposit first and run off with the money.
A reporter from Shin Min Daily News found that the person had posted the photos in the middle of May and even used the rental content Mr He originally wrote to describe the room.
Such descriptions include “near the MRT station” or “there is a supermarket downstairs”.
However, the person did not write down the room’s address.
After this discovery, the couple visited many rental websites to expose the potential scam.
They also left a comment under the person’s post to expose them for fraud.
Mr He said that he has alerted the police about the incident.
He advised, “I hope people keep their eyes open. Don’t trust rental information on the internet too easily.”
Rise in Home Rental Scams
On 9 May, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ms Sun Xueling, noted that cases of home rental scams have been rising recently.
There were 192 cases in 2021.
Meanwhile, there were 979 cases in 2022.
More often than not, these scams occur online on social media or e-commerce websites.
According to the Singapore Police Force (SPF), at least 305 victims have fallen prey to such scams since January 2023, with losses amounting to at least $1.7 million.
That’s a hefty sum.
Victims would respond to online property rental listings on sites like Facebook or Carousell and talk to the scammer through the contact number listed on the fake listing.
The scammer would impersonate a registered property agent and try to convince victims using a picture of a legitimate property agent’s Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) registration number, business card or virtual tours of the property.
However, when asked if they could view the property, the scammer would usually make the excuse that the property is in high demand.
They would then pressure the victim to make a deposit to secure the rental quickly.
Victims typically only discover the scam when the scammer ceases to continue the interaction after the deposit.
How to Protect Yourself
The SPF advises the public to download the ScamShield app and set security features like two-factor authentication for banks, social media and SingPass accounts.
The ScamShield app protects users against scam calls and helps to detect scam SMSes.
Ms Sun said that the police have been working with online platforms to remove suspicious accounts and advertisements.
The police are also working with CEA to include advisories on rental scams on its social media pages.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) launched e-commerce marketplace transaction safety ratings in May 2022 to help tackle scams.
Ms Sun added that the public can check the identities of property agents they are talking to by cross-referencing CEA’s public register and contacting property agencies.
She said, “If a search of the advertised phone number does not lead to the property agent’s profile page, this could be an indication that the listing is a scam, even if the property agent’s name or registration number has been verified against the CEA’s public register.”
She also urged the public to use online platforms with property rental as its primary business.
She warned against using Facebook or Carousell as both do not have property rental as their primary business.
Furthermore, both platforms were rated at the bottom of the anti-scam rating system for the second year in a row.
Ms Sun advised the public to use platforms like PropertyGuru instead.
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