With more than $300,000 lost to rental and accommodation scams in 2020, Safer Internet Day is a valuable reminder to stay vigilant online.

What day is Safer Internet Day?

In 2021, Safer Internet Day will be held on 9 February. The awareness day aims to create a better and safer internet for all users.

What does Safer Internet Day mean?

Safer Internet Day is an annual reminder about staying safe online. The internet has dramatically changed how we complete day-to-day transactions, but this convenience is not without risk.

If we take properties as an example, we’ve come a long way from the days of looking in the windows of real estate agencies to find our next home. Today, almost everything has shifted online.

For most people, dealing with a real estate agent or property manager is done almost entirely online through a website and email. You might send an enquiry about a property that’s for rent or sale, or expect regular correspondence with your property manager through email. 

Online transactions are not without risk

Great convenience comes with great responsibility, which is why you must stay alert and aware when conducting any property transactions online. Scammers have found ways to profit by impersonating real estate agents, landlords and third party companies – all parties that will commonly be involved in a real estate transaction.

Example 1: Kate has been sending enquiries about rental properties she likes in her neighbourhood. She has just received an email from a private landlord called Chris, telling her he’s had a high level of interest in the apartment, and that she’ll need to pay a deposit immediately to secure it before anyone else.

Chris tells Kate he is unable to offer her a viewing in person or virtually without payment upfront.

Kate doesn’t know that a scammer has phished details from the online listing, and impersonated Chris in emails to tenants. All the scammer has to do now is wait for the deposit to be paid.

Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common scenario in the rental property and for sale market today. Be aware that a scammer could be on the other side of an email – and often in another country entirely.

The best way to avoid this kind of scam is to ensure you have viewed the property in person (even though a virtual tour) and refuse to pay any money before you’ve done so. A scammer running this type of property scam will commonly use excuses for not showing a property. They might say they live out of town, are overseas temporarily, or that they’re dealing with a family emergency. These are all relatively legitimate excuses, but where possible, try to avoid situations where you’re asked to pay money without meeting the landlord or property manager in person, or having them show you the apartment first.

Example 2Kate has been scouring property listings in Brighton, Victoria and comes across a listing for a newly-renovated three bedroom, two bathroom apartment, which is priced very low. Kate knows Brighton is not a cheap suburb for rentals, so wonders if something is wrong with it.

Rent is one of the most significant ongoing expenses in life, so it’s normal to want a good deal on the lease you’ll be signing for the next 6-12 months. However, rental scammers will often list a property at a low price to pique prospective renters’ interest. Once you’ve emailed them asking for information, they’ll commonly pressure you to pay a deposit and a few weeks of rent in advance to secure the property. In most cases, the property won’t exist, or the photos and information have been copied from another rental listing on the internet.

A good rule of thumb: If the listing sounds perfect – or even too perfect to be true – it probably is.

Top tips for staying safe on your rental journey

  • Be way of emails from others when they ask you to do something that could be considered financially risky. Before you send back details, take a moment to think and double-check the information.
  • Do not immediately trust bank account details, phone numbers or other contact details sent to you. A scammer could feasibly fake this information. You can try to verify the information by contacting the sender through another means other than email. You could phone them or even visit their office. In the scenario above, Kate could call the property manager listed on the property to confirm the availability and existence of the property. 

Rent.com.au is Australia's largest company dedicated to renters and is owned and operated by ASX-listed Rent.com.au Limited (RNT:ASX). For over 15 years, Rent.com.au has exclusively focused on making renters' lives easier by making it easier to find a property, secure it, move in and pay rent.