SRC LEGAL SERVICE has had a number of students who have come for advice because they have paid money to people they thought were the owners of rental apartments, only to find that either the apartment doesn’t exist, or it isn’t for rent. The chances of retrieving their deposit or bond are slim if not zero.

They have been scammed by overseas organisations or individuals who have been particularly prolific given the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Here is what you need to be aware of when you are looking to rent a place, so that you may be better prepared to deal with a scammer: 

Have you found an inner-city rental apartment advertised on the internet at below market value? Warning, this could be a scam.

Scammers advertise rental properties on well-known property websites or Gumtree. When you express interest, they may say they are overseas or interstate and that you must conduct the transaction online.

They will create excuses on why the property cannot be viewed. The scammers then ask you to sign a lease agreement and request a deposit, bond or rent to be sent by bank transfer. The keys will then be posted to you. This scam is typically targeted towards international students.

The scammers may try to appear genuine by providing photos, real addresses of properties, land title deeds and even scans of stolen passports. They scam you by asking for a larger sum of bond (2 or 3 months rent) and rent to secure the property. If you pay by money transfer, there is very little chance of recovering your money.

Scammers may also ask for personal details such as bank and credit card numbers and driver’s licence details, which they use for credit card and identify fraud.

How to protect yourself:
  1. Be wary of ‘too good to be true’ offers on inner-city apartments at below-market prices;
  2. If possible, verify the identity of the person you are dealing with;
  3. If the property owner offers ongoing excuses about why you cannot view the property in person – such as them being overseas – be wary;
  4. Always inspect the property yourself or, if you can’t, get someone else to inspect it;
  5. Be wary of paying via money bank transfer, which is often a sign of a scam because the money is difficult to recover;
  6. Avoid making payments via money transfer services, or making a payment directly into a bank account, because these methods may be less secure than if using BPAY or PayPal;
  7. Use your common-sense and be alert to inconsistencies in stories;
  8. Do an internet search with images from the advertising, to check they haven’t been copied from another site. You can use image search websites such as Google Images.

If you are a victim of a rent scam, which is a crime, you should:

  1. Report the scam to the NSW Police Assistance Line on 131444 which operates 24hrs a day, 7 days a week. Phoning 131 444 allows you to report the crime over the phone.
  2. Once your report is completed by a phone operator, your information is immediately available to your local police.
  3. Make a report to Scamwatch via  scamwatch.gov.au/ to alert others who may be vulnerable to the same scam.

Undergraduate students at Sydney University can get free legal advice from us. Contact the SRC Legal Service on 02 9660 5222