Property scams you should be aware of
It’s a wonderful thing when you start looking for your first or next house to buy or rent. There is a sense of excitement when you start looking at listings and comparing kitchen sizes and locations. A word of caution, however, in your excitement, stay level-headed and be careful not to fall prey to property scammers that can turn a wonderful experience into a nightmare.
Just email me the details…
Hacking emails or scamming people over emails has become relatively simple in today’s technological world. When you receive an email from one of the parties involved in the sale/buy of a home, always check the email address. If it is just a generic address, don’t trust it. Also, think logically about the content. If the email asks for you to verify account details or pay any amount of money into a specific bank account, be suspicious. In any of these cases, call the individual or company that the email apparently originates from. Confirm that they did, in fact, send it. Make changes to payment details and verify account details in-person, not over an email.
That’s not me!
Identity theft is a very real and very scary thing. These criminals can empty the bank accounts you have, open new credit accounts and get home loans, all in your name and details. The fraud can go undetected for a long time while the debt in your name just rises and rises. The fraudsters can also gain “ownership” of your property, secure a mortgage or line of credit and just disappear with the money. If you see transactions on your bank statements that don’t belong or you receive statements for accounts you didn’t apply for, look into it. Go check your credit score regularly and if you find that identity theft took place, act immediately. Report it and freeze all your accounts.
The old bait-and-switch
This scheme catches a seller by dragging out the buying process and leaving the seller panicked and stressed over mounting costs. When this happens in real estate, the bait is a prospective buyer making an above-market offer on the property for sale. The seller is drawn in by the offer and signs the contract meaning the seller can no longer sell to anyone else for a specified amount of time. The scammer rides out the time and then asks for an extension to finalise his side of things. All this time the property owner has to continue paying taxes, insurance, utilities, etc. The switch finally happens when the buyer will no longer pay what was agreed upon, reduces the offer to a below-market price and threatens to cancel if the seller doesn’t agree to it. Out of frustration and stress over growing costs, the seller is scammed out of a reasonable sale of his/her property.
Never ever wire money over before having seen the property and spoken to the agent, no matter how good the offer seems to be. Fake agents or property owners can often duplicate a legitimate listing but advertise it for a much cheaper price. People are taken in by the price and wire money over to secure the rental and the fake agent or apparent owner just disappears.
Fake rental agents
Always check your rental agent’s credentials. An agent that is working legally must be registered with the Estate Agency Affairs Board and have a valid Fidelity Fund Certificate. If your agent doesn’t have them or is unwilling to produce proof of registration and certification, don’t do business with them. It is too easy for a fake agent to get you to look at a property you really like and promise to negotiate a better price for you. All you have to do is transfer the rent for the first two months to secure the property. On move-in day you find that the agent was never an agent and that the property definitely isn’t yours.
What should you do?
The safest practice is to always work with a reputable agency that is legally registered and certified. A reputable and experienced agent will quickly be able to spot a scam and you will have peace of mind knowing that when move-in day comes, the property is yours.
If anything seems out of place or “smells fishy” look into it. Whether it be an email or request that seems out of place, an offer that just seems too good to be true, or a seller pushing you to close the deal; call your agent or bank, or better yet go see them in person, and verify the information or transaction they want and the offer they have on paper is legitimate.