Rental scams: Beware 'hijacked ads'

Social media and online scamming has grown exponentially in recent years, including so-called "hijacked ads", according to Mark Burt, rentals manager of Greeff Rentals.

In this scam, criminals make use of real properties that have been listed on legitimate sites. The ad's contact information is modified and gets relisted, usually on lesser known websites, where unsuspecting tenants fall victim to rental scams.

Burt advises tenants to only search for rental properties on well-known property portals.

"These portals follow a stringent security process wherein they are required to establish ownership of each property before listing. Finding a property listed on one of these websites is a good indicator of the validity of the rental," he suggests.

"Consider properties that are listed by a reputable agency. Find a brand that you or someone that you know trust and contact them about the property you are interested in."

Watch out for these five red flags, says Burt.

  • Be cautious if the "landlord or agent" refuses to or cannot meet you in person. An agent or landlord will always do their utmost to meet you at your convenience, he advises.
  • Be wary if an "agent or landlord" expresses enthusiasm or insists on renting out a property without having done a thorough background and credit check.
  • Be cautious if you are asked to pay a deposit, portion of a deposit or your rent without having signed a lease agreement or having had a proper viewing of the property.
  • Be suspicious if the agent or landlord does not ask to sign a lease agreement due to a distorted verbal agreement. Always insist on signing a lease agreement and going through it thoroughly as well as keeping a copy for yourself.
  • Be aware if your agent or landlord asks you to pay your deposit or rent in cash. This is dangerous for many obvious reasons. It is important to have a paper trail.

Burt advises would-be renters to conduct the necessary due diligence before entering into a potentially detrimental agreement.

"If you have taken the time to ask the right questions then your risk is minimised accordingly. Don't be afraid to have an attorney investigate the validity of the owner and contract you have been presented with, if you are not using an agent. This will come at an extra cost but will give you peace of mind," suggests Burt.

"Lastly, if after everything something still feels wrong with the listing, the landlord's story changes or something just seems odd, then halt the process and revaluate," says Burt.

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