With fake photographs of fully-furnished homes, scammers target renters who are desperate to secure housing


By Eric Tlozek, Candice Prosser & SSB
Key points: • A family relocating to Adelaide recently lost $3,200 to a scam • The advertised, 'fully furnished home' was actually a building site • There has been an increase in real estate scams reported to the ACCC during the pandemic
With fake photographs of fully-furnished homes, scammers target renters who are desperate to secure housing
 
As demand in the rental market continues to soar, Ashmitha De Silva and Amarani Silva were thrilled to be offered what seemed like a perfect family home in Adelaide's northern suburbs. 

They paid a deposit and their first rental instalment up front, totalling $3,200. 

However, the day before they were due to fly to Adelaide from Melbourne, they found out the address of their supposed rental property was a building site. 

The couple — who decided to relocate to South Australia to pursue work opportunities — had been struggling to find an affordable property. 

While searching real estate forums on Facebook, Ms Silva came across posts from a man with the screen name of James A Bush who claimed to have properties available to rent. 

After she made contact with him, he sent her pictures of what he claimed was a fully furnished property in Adelaide's north available for just $275 a week. 

When Ms Silva said she was interested, he referred her on to another man. 

The second man, Rahmani Kahdim, claimed to be the landlord and sent them a contract that looked similar to legitimate contracts they had signed in the past. 

"They sent us all the agreements, licence and everything but we hadn't seen it physically because we were still in Melbourne," Mr De Silva said. 

Once they transferred the money, they never heard from the men again and were unable to contact them. 

With no family or friends in Adelaide and their deposit stolen, the family ended up moving into one room in a share house before finally securing a rental property this week. 

"It was a very hard time. We were lost," Ms Silva said. 

"With the baby, it's very hard because she needs some sleep, she's still only eight months old."

Ms Silva said that moving into their new rental has come as a "big relief". 

The couple, originally from Sri Lanka, said they wanted to warn others, including international students, about their experience. 

"My advice is just don't make any payments unless you see it personally and you see the property yourself," Mr De Silva said. 

"Just go there first … then start to look for a property, otherwise you definitely will get scammed just like what happened to us." 

The couple contacted South Australia Police, who are investigating the scam. 

Mr Silva said he felt sad that people were willing to prey on vulnerable families. 

"We should be help[ing] each other but, instead of helping each other, we try to scam each other and rip them off and this shouldn't happen because if this keeps happening we cannot make this world any more better." 

Rahmani Kahdim has not responded to the ABC's multiple requests for comment. 

Hundreds of reports to watchdog

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has received more than 275 reports to Scam watch about rental and accommodation scams this year, with reported losses exceeding $175,000. 

It reports that the most common rental scam resulted in victims sending a deposit before inspecting a rental property in person. 

Other rental scams involve scammers asking people to fill out tenancy applications, including personal identification documents that the scammers then use to impersonate the victims. 

An ACCC spokesperson said scammers who falsely claimed to own properties would often make excuses for why they cannot show the property. 

The ACCC recommends doing an internet search for the exact wording of the rental advertisement because scammers will often reuse descriptions and searches. 

It also suggests checking other websites to see if the property is advertised in multiple places but with different contact details because scammers can steal photos from legitimate real estate sites. 

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