Rental scams in Australia: How to recognise (and avoid) rental property fraud

When you’re searching for a home, it can be tempting to snap up the first appealing home without taking the time to do your research. This is particularly true if you’re on a tight deadline, but it’s all the more reason to be on the lookout for potential rental scams.

Searching for a new home can be a daunting prospect. You’re looking for a great location, the right number of bedrooms, proximity to amenities and decent travel time, right? The last thing you want to worry about is whether the home is real or the landlord exists!

Online rental listings are a popular target for scammers in Australia. Rental scams are a common tool for identity theft, and victims commonly lose several thousand dollars paying rental bonds and rent in advance to fake landlords.

Anyone can fall prey to rental scams – many of the perpetrators today are sophisticated and convincing.

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself to detect warning signs of potential fraud in the rental market and a few tips to ensure your application process is safe and secure.

TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read)

  • The property looks too good to be true (low rent, amazing amenities, unusual inclusions)
  • The listing has different contact details (email & phone) to other websites
  • The contact asks for cash or a wire transfer
  • You’re being asked for identifying information before you’ve seen the property
  • The property doesn’t even exist

1 – Does the property seem too good to be true?

A solid clue to a rental scam is that the price is well below what’s expected for the suburb. If you spy a very affordable apartment in Darling Point, NSW and the rent’s well below what others are charging, there could be a problem. You might also note that all utilities are included (this doesn’t happen too often), or there’s no request for a rental bond or rent in advance payment.

What they’re doing: Scammers know renters are often anxious about finding a home quickly. To rush you into a fake transaction, they’ll advertise a rare opportunity that could disappear fast. Scammers aim to take advantage of the thrill of the deal.

What to do: Research rental prices in the area for the size of the home and amenities you want. If you’re interested in a property with an unexpectedly low rental price, ask the landlord or property manager upfront why the rent’s so low for the area. Don’t forget to keep copies of all your communication. Remember there are good deals to be had everywhere, but perform due diligence during your search, and you’ll be fine.

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2 – Is the rental listing legitimate?

Another good clue that your favourite listing might be a rental scam is if you spot a duplicate listing under a different name.

What they’re doing: Scammers without a physical rental to show may hijack a real rental property listing and change the email address or phone number. They’ll then upload the modified advertisement on another listing site to attract vulnerable renters.

What to do: Copy the property address and search to see if it appears anywhere else online. If you see it listed on another major rental listing website, check to see if the listing has the same contact information, landlord/property manager name, address and phone number.

3 – How are they asking for payment?

All the red flags should go up if a landlord or property manager asks you to pay with cash, a wire transfer or money order. If the contact on a listing asks you to wire money for a rental deposit or application fee, beware.

What they’re doing: Wiring money is the same as sending cash; there’s no way to get it back once it’s gone.

What to do: The best way to make any type of rental payment is through an electronic deposit via your bank account. This is something you can set up with your bank. Making a payment this way gives you a clear, easy-to-access record of where your money went.

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4 – Are they asking you for personal information before you view the home?

Not only should you be able to view a rental property before making any payment, but you should also attend a viewing in person where possible.

What they’re doing: Most scammers don’t have an actual rental available. In this scam, they may ask you for personal identifiers like your credit card number or date of birth.

What to do: Whenever possible, see the rental in person. If you cannot make the viewing yourself, ask for an online tour or see if a family member or friend can attend on your behalf. Don’t leave something of this importance to chance. If the ‘landlord’ says they’re unavailable to show you the property or conditions the viewing upon you providing personal information in advance, this may be a red flag. Don’t leave something of this importance to chance.

5 – Is this even a real property?

In some cases, the scammer will take advantage of a remote enquiry. They may offer you a virtual tour of the property (or not at all), but the building isn’t actually up for rent.

What they’re doing: A common fraud tactic is to show you properties that don’t even exist. This is done to get hold of your rental bond and rent in advance.

What to do: Searching for rentals remotely and can’t visit the property yourself? Ask someone you trust (such as a friend, family member or fellow employee) to go in person for you. Thoroughly vet the rental before you commit to signing a lease agreement. Use tools like Google Maps to check the property’s address. You can verify the address and look at the property on Street View to weed out potential rental scams.

Extra red flags:

  • The listing has no photos or a property address listed
  • They’re asking you to visit an external website to complete the transaction
  • The landlord claims to be ‘out of town’ or ‘overseas’
  • They’re asking you for money before you’ve seen the property

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Avoid rental scams that pretend to be from Rent.com.au 

Phishing is a widespread form of online fraud. It’s where scammers will try to convince you to hand over your details by posing as a legitimate company.

Here are some simple things to look out for if you receive a suspect email.

  • As a renter, any emails you receive from Rent.com.au will likely come from [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected] Always check the spelling of the email you receive.
  • Rent.com.au will never request credit card information via email.
  • Look at the template the email has arrived on. Does it look similar to other communications you’ve received from Rent.com.au? Check the footer of the email and see if there are clear links to pages on Rent.com.au.
  • If we ask you to follow a link in an email, we will always direct you to a site that starts with www.rent.com.au or www.rentpay.com.au. Always double-check the spelling; scammers will sometimes try to use similar versions.
  • We will never ask you to change your password on an email. The only exception is when you’ve specifically requested your password change from the Rent.com.au website.

If you encounter a scam listing or are suspicious about an encounter you’ve had online, send us an email or call 1300 736 810. 

Lauren Vardy
Lauren Vardy

Lauren Vardy is the Content Manager at Rent.com.au, Australia's largest company dedicated to renters (ASX:RNT). Lauren has worked with Rent.com.au since 2015 and manages the Rent.com.au Blog. Formerly a journalist with Fairfax Media and Rural Press, Lauren has worked with multiple media groups in Australia and internationally on a freelance basis through publications including the Esperance Express, Southeast Asia Globe, Colosoul Magazine, The Sunday Times, and more.

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