Two young mothers are among a growing number of people losing thousands of dollars to rental scams in WA, with regulators linking the rise to the end of the state’s rental moratorium almost two weeks ago.
- Rental vacancies across WA have fallen to record, or near record, lows
- At the same time, the number of rental property scams has risen
- Renters are urged to do all necessary checks before handing over money
The moratorium ended on March 29, leaving many renters without accommodation and allowing landlords to raise prices and evict tenants with far fewer restrictions than had been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Consumer Protection WA said those fearful of the end of the moratorium were easy prey for scammers, with at least five West Australians left thousands of dollars out of pocket so far this year.
Among them is Varney, who lost $1,800 when she transferred money for what she believed was a bond payment for a property in Piara Waters.
She told ABC Radio Perth it was a bitter blow after spending about seven months looking for a rental.
Varney found the property at the beginning of April through Facebook Marketplace.
She said the person who created the listing told her they were out of the state, but she could visit the property and inspect it from the outside.
They claimed they would post the keys and lease agreement once the bond was paid.
But after paying the bond, Varney tried to email the person behind the listing — only to find the email had been deleted.
“I tried doing that several times and it [kept] saying the email was disabled,” she said.
“I went back on the Facebook page, it was taken down.
“I tried to message them again through Facebook again, I think they blocked me from there.”
It has left Varney with no option but to stay with her mother as she searches for a new property.
Multiple Perth rental scams reported
Consumer Protection said Varney was not alone in falling victim to a rental scam this year, with at least 18 similar scams already reported.
Among the victims is a mother and her four children who are now homeless after losing $3,600 to a scammer who also advertised a property on Facebook Marketplace.
Like Varney, the mother never met the supposed landlord and did not view the inside of the property.
Consumer Protection said on the date she was due to move in, she instead found the home occupied by tenants who had an agreement with a legitimate property agent.
Scams rise as market skyrockets
WA ScamNet coordinator Paul Cvejic said the organisation had seen a marked increase in rental scams since about September last year.
“I believe the scammers have taken advantage of people in this time where the value in the market has skyrocketed,” he said.
“They’re advertising these nice properties well below the current rental value and people are jumping on it thinking that they’re getting a bargain, and because of that they’re not always doing the checks that they should be doing.”
He said that was exactly what scammers were hoping for.
“That’s why we’re pushing for people to make sure that they do checks, to make sure that the advertisement is legitimate, inspect the property,” he said.
“Arrange to inspect the inside of the property and be suspicious if they make excuses up for reasons why you can’t actually go into the property.
“It’s all about trying to make sure that what you’re responding to on Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree is legitimate.”
West Australians were scammed out of almost $14 million in 2019, according to WA ScamNet.