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Thursday, 13 May 2010

Beware this fake-landlord scam

BE CAREFUL if you are looking to rent a home here, or you could fall prey to a rental scam.

This is how it works: A conman, using a fake name, poses as a landlord with rooms for rent at low prices.

He gives fake addresses of apartments in areas like Orchard and Chinatown.

He refuses to arrange for a viewing of the apartments, claiming that he is in Britain on internship and will be back here only by the end of next month.

He asks potential tenants to e-mail him a scan of their passport, and sign a contract e-mailed to them.

He asks them to wire a month’s rent and a security deposit to a Western Union account, and says he will post the keys to them. To reassure them, he sends images of the apartments and a scan of what he claims to be his passport.

A check with a thread on rental scams in Singapore on online forum scamwarners.com showed that at least 14 people have received such messages.

The scammer uses different pseudonyms, like Richard Willem Tibor, Jane Louise Millar and Tan Nee, and asks for sums of between $1,100 and $2,500.

Figures from the police show that, on average, one person falls victim to such rental scams every day. Last year, police received 324 reports of rental scams, down from 355 reports in 2008.

Mr Manuel Nacionales, 44, a Filipino systems analyst who has been working here for four years, almost became a victim.

He posted a request to rent a room on share-accommodation. sg, a website that links potential house- or flat-mates, in February this year.

Within a day, he got an offer of an apartment at 14 Scotts Road ? the address of shopping mall Far East Plaza.

In an e-mail sent from tantongnee@hotmail.com, the sender said he was a Singaporean named Tan Nee and could be called on +44-701-115-1047.

He asked Mr Nacionales to send a month’s rent of $700 and a security deposit of $400 to a Western Union account.

Mr Nacionales did receive a scan of the passport of a man called Tan Tong Nee, but did not wire any money after his colleagues advised him against it.

When my paper called the number posing as a potential tenant, the man identified himself as Tan Nee Long in a pseudo- British accent.

Pressed for the address of the rental apartment, he said that it was 202 Far East Apartment.

But a check with Far East Plaza’s residence showed that all its unit numbers are in four digits.

He could not arrange for a viewing of the apartment as he is doing a master’s programme in computer programming in London and has no friends in Singapore, he said.

He would send the keys only after the lease contract was signed and payment made.

“You have nothing to worry about, I’ll be sending you the contract and scanned passport of myself,” he said repeatedly.

When my paper asked him about forum postings about him being a scammer, he said: “No, I don’t do such things… People keep saying rubbish on the Internet.

It’s because I’m not gonna lease the room to them, that’s why they say I’m a scammer.”

He said that he was renting out the apartment on behalf of his mother, who owns it.

When told that he was speaking to my paper, he said “no problem”, but then hung up.

Scamwarners.com’s adviser, Mr David Jenson, 40, said one should never pay or send personal details to a stranger online.

Insist on seeing the title deeds, said Consumers Association of Singapore executive director Seah Seng Choon.

Check out the rightful owners of a property on the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore’s website, and look for properties via reputable websites like www.iproperty.com and www.propertyguru.com, said Mr Nelson Tan, a council member of the Institute of Estate Agents.

A police spokesman said tenants should request all parties to be present when signing tenancy documents, and should not pay large sums in cash.

Source : my paper – 12 May 2010

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