PROPERTY scams have more than doubled in WA in the past two years.
West Australians are falling victim to more cons than ever from online fraudsters posting advertisements on classifieds websites.
Last year, 27 property scams were reported to the Department of Consumer Protection – a rise of 14 from 2012.
The amount victims lost also increased, with a total of $112,095 lost to property scammers, up from $84,000 in 2012.
“The real estate sales scam was the highest with a loss of $70,000,” Consumer Protection commissioner Anne Driscoll said.
“On average, the rental scams victims lost $1619.”
Rental scams had the most victims in 2013, with 26 people falling victim to bogus online property advertisements, paying scammers bonds and other payments to secure a home.
“Consumer Protection is receiving a growing number of reports in relation to rental scams, where properties that may not even be available are advertised on classifieds websites by scammers who don’t own or manage the property in question,” Ms Driscoll said.
“We understand the scammers scour legitimate real estate sales and property rental websites to copy pictures and address details for their bogus property for rent ads.
“The scammers then place the ads on free listing websites and substitute an agency’s contact details with their own.
“Usually they have an email address with one of the free email account providers.
“Once prospective tenants get in touch, the scammers tend to come up with various excuses as to why the premises cannot be visited prior to payment of deposit, bond or rent.”
Alongside bogus rental property deals, some West Australians are falling victim to real estate scams in which victims are tricked into thinking they are buying a property.
In WA, one real estate scam was recorded in 2013 that resulted in the victim losing $70,000.
“(The) consumer met a man in Liberia, Africa, while on holiday who offered a property for sale,” Ms Driscoll said.
“(The) consumer agreed and when he got back to Australia he transferred the money to his bank account for the purchase of the property.”
The consumer realised it was a scam when he did not receive the documents and contracts.
According to Consumer Protection, one in 20 Australians will fall victim to some form of scam.
Claire Lopaty, 22, of Perth was one of them.
The young traveller was desperate to find a rental property, so she and her friends posted ads seeking rental properties in Perth.
“We had a man from Rockingham tell us he had an apartment in Perth for rent,” she said. “We met in person and gave him a $900 bond.”
But, unbeknown to Ms Lopaty, the man she met was a fraudster who had used photos from a real estate website to lure them in.
“He kept changing the move-in day until later, ignored all our calls, and when we threatened to call the police about us wanting our money back, he finally called us back acting really defensive,” Ms Lopaty said.
“We looked up his name online and apparently he had scammed multiple people.”
Although she reported the scam to Consumer Protection, her bond money wasn’t able to be recovered. Ms Lopaty said now she looked back on it, she was “really dumb” when looking for a rental property.
“Don’t post anything about yourself being young and travelling because scammers take advantage of that,” she said.
“If you’re going to post an ad seeking a houseshare or apartment room to rent, put as little info about yourself as possible and don’t come across as desperate.
“Reply to ads that allow you to view the house right away. “Houseshares seem to be very safe bets I have noticed since the scamming incident.
“But, don’t trust ‘independent realtors’.”