Scammers target South Africa’s rental market

 ·12 Feb 2023

South Africans should be aware of possible fake rental agreements posted online.

As reported by Carte Blanche, reputable real estate agents may have had their identities stolen by online scammers.

The details of realtors are easily found online – including photos –  making it a breeze for criminals to impersonate them. Criminals then trick customers into paying large sums of money for properties that are not available for rent.

Scammers could send credible-looking documents with a real estate company’s logo attached. Upon receiving the documentation, scammers will then press the interested party to pay a deposit for the non-existent property, claiming other parties are interested and the deposit will secure it.

Realnet Managing Director Gerhard Kotze said that the average loss for customers that Realnet dealt with was between R8,000 and R30,000. He added that there are possibly two to four cases coming in every day – other people may not report the incident.

Stefan Loubser, an estate agent, said that prospective renters should avoid and never pay money before viewing unless they know it is a reputable agency.

Kotze added that those interested in renting could protect themselves by asking an agent for their fidelity fund number. That certificate number can be found on the regulatory authority’s website, proving that the agent is legitimate. If the person cannot do that, it is likely a scam.

Remax suggests that potential renters google the agent’s cell number and email address to see if all available information corresponds.

Moreover, customers should always compare the properties that they find on an online portal with the agency’s own website; if they don’t match, then it should raise concerns.

Scams on the rise 

“With interest rates climbing, times are tough for many South Africans. This could lead to more opportunist crimes as people become increasingly desperate,” Adrian Goslett, Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX South Africa.

Earlier this year, the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements said that residents should be aware of housing scams that request them to pay for government housing assistance.

The Department said that a message circulating WhatsApp claimed to assist residents in receiving a house within two weeks, with residents asked to pay R2,300 for the title deed and the approval letter. The Department added that no payment must be made to be put on the waiting list for a residential property.

South Africa is a cybercrime hotspot. Statistics from WonderNet showed that 97 South Africans were victims of cybercrime every hour during 2021. Considering only 60% of South Africans have regular internet access, the statistics are quite alarming.

Jackie Smith, head of Buyers Trust, said that South African consumers need further education regarding online financial transactions as scammers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated.

The real estate industry is particularly vulnerable to online attacks due to the large sums of money exchanged for buying or renting a property.

Read: How to apply for a home loan in South Africa

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