No Nobb as Surry Hills, Sydney, online rental scammer uncovered

If an online ad is offering a rental property at a quarter of what it would normally rent for and renters aren’t allowed to inspect, then it’s probably a scam.

One prospective Sydney renter stumbled onto an online scam on the classified ad site Gumtree.

She luckily had the guile to recognise the hallmarks of a scam as soon as the scammers emailed her back.

The renter, Kieryn, then proceeded to bait the scammer to draw as much information out as possible and glean how the scam worked.

The original ad was deleted not long after.

The ad offered a Surry Hills terrace at an enticing rental price.

Kieryn contacted the so-called owners, keen for the bargain, and was told the owners were overseas and just needed someone to move in as soon as possible.

Just pay the deposit and the Nobbs Street property is yours, the scammer told Kieryn.

“Kindly note that you advised to go and view the place from around the property as this is the only form of inspection at the moment due to our absence and the keys being with us here,” the scammers wrote.

“Two weeks rental deposit of $960 or a month rent of $1,920 is required to secure the place along with a refundable bond deposit of $1,920, which is also required as fee for damages according to the rental law and all payment will be made into our Australian bank account.”

The so-called landlord said they were overseas for three years in “the U.K to resume our new assignment, which is about the HIV/AIDS reaffirm program” and they want a renter to ensure the house is “kept alive in my absence”.

This is when Kieryn knew it was a scam. They were overseas, she couldn’t inspect the property, they wanted the deposit straight away and it seemed too cheap.

But just how much cheaper than market rates was it actually?

It turns out the scammers had lifted the details of the property from a genuine listing on realestateVIEW.com.au (pictured below).

The original listing was a four-bedroom terrace that had an asking rent of $6,546 per month for the four-bedroom, two-level terrace.

To confirm her suspicions Kieryn decided to goad the scammer to see how far they would go.

“I forgot to mention we own a small dog… If this is a problem that’s OK we can send her to a shelter or have her put down. We just really love the house more than anything,” Kieryn wrote.

“Also is there a basement? Or somewhere that can be locked from the outside and is sound proof?

While normal landlords would recognise Kieryn as likely a dud tenant, the scammers were undeterred.

“We feel you are the ideal tenant we are looking for and have approved your rental request,” the scammers replied, clearly unfazed by her odd requests.

“We are fine with you bring your dog to the house, we consider your dog as part of you cherished belongings.

“There is a basement which we used as a store but we have since been moved out everything there so you will have access to it when you move in.”

The scammers then provided their bank details, an account at Suncorp Bank, and once more requested Kieryn pay the requested amount.

 


 

The exchanges went for a number of days, with Kieryn’s requests getting ever more bizarre.

“Is this basement big enough to hold say, a mattress and a few other items? For example a bucket, and a wooden box?”

The scammers persisted but eventually realised they were having their time wasted and severed all contact.

The true rental listing agent Antoni Hayek from Laing and Simmons Pyrmont says he was contacted by as many as five potential renters who had tracked down the original listing after smelling a rat.

“I’ve probably had about four or five enquiries from people asking the property but with information from the Gumtree ad."

Hayek says agents are limited in their response to scams like this.

“We sent emails to Gumtree asking them to get rid of the ad. We reported it as a scam to them.”

He recommends renters avoid sites like Gumtree when looking for a property.

“I love using Gumtree to buy stuff, but I just wouldn’t use it for something like this.”

“I’d make sure they’d met the owners and got some sort of ownership proof.”

He says renters should never pay for a property without inspecting first.

Hayek says while these scams are rare they have cropped up before.

For now, all agents can do is try and educate renters and report any scams when they hear about them, such as a recent rental scam in Perth and a phishing scam that targeted RE/MAX real estate agency.

Tell us if you have uncovered other rental scams.

Alistair Walsh

Alistair Walsh

Deutsche Welle online reporter

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