New property scam targeting these areas in South Africa

 ·8 Jan 2023

The Western Cape Department of Human Settlements has urged residents to be aware of online housing scams that request them to pay for government housing assistance.

The department said that it had recently learnt of a Whatsapp message that had been circulating – claiming to assist residents in receiving a house within two weeks.

As part of the scam, residents are requested to pay R2,300 for the approval letter and title deed to receive the opportunity.

It said the following areas had been targetted:

  • Khayelitsha
  • Stellenbosch
  • Montana Paarl
  • Mitchells Plain

“Residents should be aware that no payment is required to be placed on the housing demand database (waiting list), t apply for a housing subsidy, or any related government housing service,” said the department.

The scam targets vulnerable residents who are in need of assistance and are willing to pay to be ‘bumped up the waiting list’.

To further mask that it is a scam, many perpetrators have some knowledge of how government housing works and go as far as to create fraudulent approval letters and correspondence that can appear lawful and authentic.

“While some residents are also aware of how the system works, the mere suggestion of being bumped up on the waiting list prompts them to find the means to pay a requested fee to fast-track the process,” said Muneeraa Allie, the department’s acting director of communication.

This scam forms part of many online housing scams for which there has been a resurgence. According to the department, several Facebook accounts are making similar claims to assist residents in receiving government housing opportunities – in some instances, impersonating a government official.

With large sums of money being transferred for real estate and many payments now taking place online, cybercrimes specifically targeting prospective homeowners have emerged.

Jackie Smith, the head of Ooba Properties subsidiary Buyers Trust, said that they are seeing scammers posting advertisements online for a property for sale or rent.

“These scammers have no actual relation to the property in question, and after an unsuspecting buyer or tenant hands over the cash, they vanish into thin air,” said Smith.

Smith offered the following suggestions to help customers safeguard their deposits when doing business online:

  • Be cautious when you click any links or attachments in emails you receive, and avoid doing so if they seem off.
  • Before making a deposit, confirm any banking information from the questioned bank.
  • Before making any deposits, make sure to check with your agent. Since using email could allow a criminal to prolong the interception, this confirmation should be done in person or over the phone.
  • Make careful to select strong passwords that are difficult for an attacker to guess and to keep your devices updated with anti-malware software.
  • Connect to known and reliable private WiFi networks only.
  • Consider using an alternative to the traditional depositing of cash into a trust account, to secure your purchase.

Read: There’s been a quiet shift in South Africa’s property market – and it’s only going to get louder

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