Real estate agents are warning people not to fall into the trap of scammers who are luring vulnerable people desperate for a rental property.

Browns Plains Real Estate principal Neil Giles said his agency had been hit twice by the scam.

The crooks copy photos of rental properties from the sites of real estate agencies or property marketing sites and post them on social media as their own.

They offer application forms to people, and ask them for bond money upfront.

“We understand that there are quite a few people looking for properties right now,” Mr Giles said.

“But they still need to be careful and deal directly with reputable agents. These scammers are posing as property owners and offering people bond loans.”

A Fair Trading Queensland spokesperson said the office was aware of the scam, but had not received complaints for more than a year.

“When looking to rent a property, prospective tenants should ensure that they are dealing with a licensed agent,” she said.

“About 90% of rental properties in Queensland are managed by licensed real estate agents and licensed letting agents.”

Fair Trading Queensland encourages people to ask questions of the agent, and to request to see their licence. There’s also a free licence search function of the office’s website.

Prospective tenants can also check the rental amount listed in the advertisement. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

Queensland’s Residential Tenancies Authority has a function on its website to check average cost of rentals for different types of dwelling by postcode.

Fair Trading recommends people always view the property they wish to rent and review the lease document before paying a bond. While the office suggests you inspect the property in person, if this isn’t possible because you are moving a long distance or Covid restrictions are in place, ask the agent to provide a live virtual walkthrough.

“Scammers will provide excuses as to why they can’t be there to give you access or why you can’t inspect the property, however legitimate agents will arrange these inspections easily, with proper notice for the homeowners or current tenant.”

In Queensland residential tenancy bonds must be held by the RTA and tenants can choose to lodge their bonds online directly with the RTA.

This reduces scammers’ opportunities for immediate financial incentives, but consumers should still be on their guard when renting in private markets as the scammers are sometimes phishing for personal data rather than cash.

Anybody who believes they’ve been scammed is encouraged to report it to Fair Trading at 1300 366 311.

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