16 Apr Property Rental Scams By Impersonation
Is That You?
Property Agent: “Hey Jack, is this your name card?”
The name card sent over to me via WhatsApp from a fellow property agent showed my name & a picture of me.
Me: “Yeah, it’s me. What’s up?”
Property Agent: “My friend who is looking for a property to rent received this name card from a property agent. He asked if this is a legit name card.”
That felt strange.
Nowadays, I rarely give out name cards.</p?
I took a closer look at the image of the name card again.
That’s my pic. That’s my name.
Wait a minute. The printed email address & contact numbers aren’t mine!
That’s when I realised that scammers were impersonating me to conduct property rental scams in Singapore.
This tenant had gone onto a property website and put up a “rental property wanted” request.
Shortly after, a property agent reached out to him via WhatsApp.
The property agent sent over his name card and pics of the unit.
The unit was beautiful.
The price was very attractive.
However, the tenant couldn’t view the unit as the landlord was away.
The property agent also mentioned many other interested tenants were ahead in the viewing queue.
The tenant could lose the unit.
The property agent tried to help by making a suggestion.
“Sign the tenancy agreement. Pay the money. And the unit is yours.”
The tenant was very interested. And then suddenly, a question popped into his head.
“How do I know if this is a legitimate name card?”
And that was when the tenant contacted his agent friend & showed him “my name card”.
Messages Started Flooding In
I got to know about the impersonation on 2 April 2022 & made a police report on the same day.
Thankfully, this tenant didn’t fall for the scam because he contacted his agent friend.
But on 3 April 2022, I had a missed call & received a disturbing email.
“May I check with you about the listing @ Holland Drive to follow up? Would like you to give me a call to talk about it?”
I called this person back & my worst fears were confirmed.
She had paid $1,600 to a scammer impersonating me.
Over the next ten days, more than 20 other tenants reached out to me.
Fortunately, the bulk of them didn’t transfer the payment to the scammer. It was a harrowing & traumatising experience for those who did.
Let’s Create Greater Awareness
Someone from Mediacorp’s Channel 8 programme, <狮城有约> reached out to me this week.
They were interested in talking to one of the victims and me to create greater awareness.
These are the clips from the interviews conducted in mandarin.
For the benefit of those who don’t understand mandarin, this is what the victim shared.
The victim felt the scammer was acting in a professional, helpful, and caring manner. She hesitated when asked to sign the contract and make payment without getting to view the unit first.
But the fear of losing the unit worried her.
She finally decided to proceed when her friend went online to search using my name & saw favourable reviews.
The next part wasn’t mentioned in the interview.
She reached out to me at my registered business email and contact number only after she felt something was wrong. That’s when she realised she had been scammed.
Here’s my interview with the hosts of the show.
These are the main essential points I conveyed in the video:
The Rental Market
There is a very strong demand for rental units (in short supply) right now. As a result, tenants are becoming very fearful of missing out on rental properties.
This situation creates the opportunity for scammers to prey on their fear.
Are You An Agent?
The scammers are right now impersonating licensed property agents. Every piece of info on the name card is correct except for:
- contact number
- email address
The contact number & email address belong to the scammers.
As a tenant, you can take the following precautions:
(a) Verify if you are dealing with a licenced property agent
Go to CEA’s public register and key in the property agent’s contact number. If the search doesn’t return any result, there is a 99.9% chance this property agent is a scammer.
Now, there are property agents who have more than one contact number.
You can give the property agent one more chance by asking for their CEA-registered contact number. And then search on the CEA website again.
If the search returns an agent’s record, go ahead and call this number.
(b) Verify the ownership info
Do an ownership search on the property you are interested to rent.
You can go to the SLA or IRAS website to check who owns the property. Please note that you have to pay to check.
Make the necessary payment to the owners listed in the ownership proof using a cheque or cashier’s order.
For rental of HDB flats, take note that the property agent can only accept direct payment to them if the payment is for commission or stamp duty fees. The CEA website talks more about the handling of transaction monies.
Hunting For Scammers
In the earlier cases, the tenants who got in touch with me told me the scammers responded to their property wanted adverts.
A tenant who contacted me 2 days ago, told me he was responding to rental adverts on Carousell Singapore. I decided to go to Carousell Singapore to take a look.
In less than a minute of searching, I found two listings that I was confident were scam listings.
These are the telltale signs of fake property listings put up by scammers:
- The listing has beautiful or very presentable pictures of the unit.
- The listing is priced below the market rate.
- The advertiser has no ratings yet.
- The advertiser will switch the mode of communication to WhatsApp once you’ve sent a chat message.
- The advertiser has newly created an account on the property website.
I have already highlighted the fake listings and shared my findings with Carousell Singapore.
How many fake listings would I find if I spent my day combing through Carousell? I don’t know.
But I’m feeling concerned.
Carousell Singapore is only one of the so many property websites out there. They have a team that goes after fake listings.
But is there anyone policing the other property websites?
I wasn’t planning to put up new content on my current website as I’m focused on its revamp.
But when I found my name dragged into these rental scams, I had to clear my name & also do my part to create greater awareness.
If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me.