Rent scam hits New Zealand
By HANK SCHOUTEN - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 01/05/2010

Rent scammers are ripping off property advertisements in a bid to suck money from would-be tenants.

A Wellington real estate agent is advising people not to forward money to anyone unless they are sure they are dealing with the authorised agent.

Professionals agent Jason Knott said he had been rung by nine people who were almost taken in by scammers advertising a property he had listed for sale. He suspected others may have lost money.

Scammers lifted a photo and details of a two-bedroom townhouse he had listed for sale at 332 The Terrace, and advertised it for rent.

People who inquired were told by email that the owners had moved to Britain. They were told to forward money and the keys would be sent.

Mr Knott, who is from England, said this sort of scam had been going on over there for years "but they're now targeting places where it's not been done before".

"If somebody is asking you to send money before they release the keys, then it's a scam. And if it's too good to be true, then be aware."

Eight or nine people had rung him after checking the property and seeing his "for sale" sign. "I only know of those ones, but I'm sure there's people who have sent the money."

Peter Smith, of Porirua, said his stepdaughter Aroha Waa, 19, was one of those nearly taken in.

After responding to the advertisement, she was told the townhouse was owned by a Kiwi missionary and her husband.

They were offering the flat for $650 a month and asked her to forward four weeks' rent and two weeks' bond money to an address in London, saying they would then send the keys.

"I had my suspicions right away and when I went on the web to check it out I saw it was listed for sale. I rang Jason and he told me the whole thing was a scam," Mr Smith said.

The national cyber crime centre chief, Detective Senior Sergeant John van den Heuvel, said this sort of scam came up quite often. It was easy for people to copy advertising on the internet and use it as their own.

Mr van den Heuvel said these sorts of scams were often run out of Nigeria and other countries where there was no way police could follow them up.

TIPS TO AVOID RENT SCAMS

If it's too good to be true, it probably is be wary of cheap rent deals.

Don't send money to people you only know over the internet a landlord is bound to have a local contact or agent you could phone or visit.

Visit the advertised property or Google the address rent scammers often lift details off real estate agents property sales sites.

Don't pay to get a key.

No landlord can expect you to move into a place without seeing it first.

Be wary of demands for payment in advance that give you no way to retract or cancel, such as electronic funds transfers or wire service payments.

Be suspicious of any seller or shopping site that does not give their full contact details.

A post office box is not enough to trace a scammer, especially overseas.

From here.