Tough economic times invariably lead to a rise in opportunistic crime. In the residential rental market, cybercrime has also increased, tricking many unsuspecting tenants out of their security deposits.
Cybercrime has lately grown both in frequency and sophistication, especially in the rental market, according to Jacqui Savage, the national rentals manger for the Rawson Property Group.
“Rentals aren’t cheap, and with deposits sitting at two or three months’ rent, scammers are walking away with tens of thousands of rand,” she says. “For most of us, that kind of financial loss would be devastating, which is why it’s so important to double-check every detail beforehand.”
While there is no single tell-tale sign of a rental con artist, Savage says asking these questions should help you spot the red flags.
Are the contact details legit?
“With so much information available online, it’s become incredibly easy for scammers to impersonate legitimate rental agents,” says Savage. “The branding, the images, the descriptions – they’ll all look completely legit.” The one thing scammers can’t duplicate exactly is the rental agent’s contact details. “Check on Google to make sure the agent’s publicly listed contact details match those on the listing, or even call the rental agency to verify the agent,” says Savage.
Is the agent certified with the PPRA?
Verify the rental agent’s professional certification for confirmation that they are who they say they are and that they are properly qualified to handle your rental transaction. “Ask for the agent’s Fidelity Fund Certificate number and then look them up on the Property Practitioner’s Regulatory Authority website.”
Are they using professional communication channels?
While some rental agents will use messaging platforms like WhatsApp to discuss a rental property or arrange meetings, Savage says no legitimate rental agreement should ever be concluded via WhatsApp. “Rental agreements and deposit details should always be emailed from a legitimate business email address or concluded in person in a professional setting.” she says.
Have you been able to properly view the property?
It may be relatively easy to fake an online listing, but it’s dramatically more difficult to fake an entire property. Savage says it’s important to always view a rental property in person before handing over any money.
Are you feeling overly pressured?
Another tell-tale sign of a potential scammer is pressuring prospective tenants into paying a deposit early to avoid “losing out to the competition”. Genuine agents will never ask for a deposit before the lease agreement has been signed.
What about private landlords?
Unfortunately for tenants, it’s much more difficult to verify the details of a private landlord. She suggests asking for proof that they are, in fact, the registered property owners, as well as insisting on a copy of all lease documentation, including a receipt for your deposit.