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4 Simple Steps To Prevent Rental Scams In Singapore

Rental Scams in Singapore And 4 Simple Steps To Prevent Being a Victim

Rental Scams Are Prevalent And More Consumers Have Fallen Prey

Scammers are putting up fake property listings online and impersonating property agents to scam victims into making payment to secure an appointment to view or rent the property. In Singapore, all property agents must be registered with the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) before they can facilitate property transactions.

Between July and November 2023, at least 287 victims have fallen prey to rental scams, with losses amounting to at least $1.8 million according to the Singapore Police Force (SPF). Victims would typically respond to sponsored property rental listings on various online platforms or websites and interact with the scammers through WhatsApp.

Scammers would impersonate a legitimate property agent and convince the victims of their credentials by sending pictures of their Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) registration number, business cards and pictures and videos or virtual tours of the rental property.

In some rental scams, victims were asked to meet up with the “personal assistants” of the fake property agents who would help facilitate their viewing of the property. After the viewing, victims would be told to provide their personal particulars for the tenancy agreement and to make payments for the rentals through bank transfers or PayNow. However after paying, the scammer or “personal assistants” would cease contact with the victims. Between July and November 2023, at least 77 victims have fallen prey to this method of scamming, with total losses amounting to at least $473,000.

Do not pay any deposit to view or rent a property without verifying the legitimacy of the property listing and property agent.

How Do Property Rental Scams Work?

Stage one: Renting a legitimate property

1. The scammer poses as a “tenant” to rent a legitimate property. He does so by employing a “personal assistant” to meet with the landlord or the property agent representing the landlord, to view a legitimate property that is put up for rent. The scammer would claim that he is overseas and therefore is unable to view the property and transact with the landlord or the landlord’s property agent in person.

2. If the landlord or landlord’s property agent agrees to transact without conducting face-to-face verification of the “tenant”, the scammer would get his “personal assistant” to rent and take over the property using the personal particulars of another individual which the scammer has obtained, without the knowledge of the individual.

Stage two: Using the rented property to scam prospective tenants

1. Once the scammer has successfully rented the property, he would impersonate a CEA-registered property agent and advertise the property for rent and claim to be the landlord’s property agent.

2. The scammer (impersonating the landlord-appointed property agent) would communicate with prospective tenants (i.e. potential victims) wishing to rent the property via WhatsApp messages instead of through calls or in person. Physical viewings with prospective tenants would be conducted by the scammer’s “personal assistant”.

3. After a prospective tenant expresses interest to rent the property, the scammer would send a tenancy agreement (“TA”) over WhatsApp messaging to the prospective tenant. After the prospective tenant signs the TA, the scammer would ask the tenant to make payment (such as security deposit or rent payment) into a bank account that purportedly belongs to the landlord but in fact is an account that the scammer has access to.

4. The scammer would then cease contact with the tenant after receiving the payment.

The 4 Crucial Steps To Prevent Rental Scams

Scammers have targeted prospective tenants, and have impersonated Real Estate Salespersons (“RES”) to request for payments of deposits to secure a viewing or secure a lease via a tenancy agreement, and forwarding tenancy agreement to be signed or e-signed by the unsuspecting victim.

To do the above, scammers impersonate RES with existing and valid Council for Estate Agents (“CEA”) Registration number, and with valid listings on property portals. Scammers will also use the RES’s profile picture and display the RES’s phone number in WhatsApps and/or other communication mode.

STEP 1 : Ensure the CEA Registration Of The Property Agent Tallies With CEA's Registry

Ensure that the person who you are dealing with is a CEA-registered property agent. You can verify the validity of the property agent's registration on the CEA Public Register.

STEP 2 : Ensure the contact number of the Property Agent Is Registered With CEA

You should use the phone number advertised or used by the person to perform a search on the CEA Public Register. If the search does not lead to a property agent's profile page, it means that the phone number is not registered with CEA.

STEP 3 : Ensure that communication is done via the CEA registered contact number of the Property Agent

Due to the prevalent number of scams carried out through spoofed mobile numbers, it is essential that all calls and messages are conducted via the CEA registered contact number of the property agent you are liaising with.

STEP 4 : Do not make any payment before viewing the property

You are strongly advised to view the property with the CEA-registered property agent in person to verify that it exists. Payment is not required to secure viewings and/or rental of the property. 

All payments should be made directly to the property owner and not the property agent, using verifiable modes of payment. Do ensure that the property agent is able to produce the ownership proof of the property to you. By following these 4 steps, you can prevent yourself and your loved ones from rental scams. 

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