Online scams have now extended to real estate too. Not all rental listings are legitimate. I should know – I almost fell prey to one.
These past few weeks had me in a terrible tizzy as I have been scouring rental listings online for a new place. My current lease ends in December, hence the urgency.
Living near the city centre is a must for me as I work at Mid Valley and depend on ride-sharing and public transportation to get around.
Looking for an affordable unit in KL can be a daunting task – from searching through endless listings to attending unit viewings. So when I came across an online portal that advertised for an affordably priced unit in a prime location, fronting a KTM station no less – I was over the moon.
NOTE: As I am looking for either a master-room or studio unit, I had to extend my search beyond property portals to third-party sites advertising room rental listings.
However, as desperate as I was, I sensed that something doesn’t smell quite right.
After speaking to the lady who advertised for this ‘affordable’ unit, I was asked to transfer some money to her account. Alarm bells went off – this is obviously not the usual practice.
So I decided to probe into this matter further and conduct some due diligence. And I was right, it was a scam.
Anyway, to cut the long story short, my sordid (I get a wee bit dramatic sometimes) experience has inspired me to share some tips for other rental property hunters out there.
Here’s how you spot a rental scam
Let me guide you through the red flags you should watch out for when researching the legitimacy of a potential rental listing:
1. The deal sounds too good to be true and the rental sum is significantly less than similar units in the building or nearby properties.
When further questioned, the ‘landlord’ will of course, reason this with some story and try to rein you in with an explanation.
In my case, the listing I came across for a studio unit was going for half the price (RM800) as compared to other similar units in the building (RM1,500-RM1,800). Of course, I was immediately doubtful with the super-discounted price and my ‘scam alert’ button was already triggered. But after scrolling down the listing, I discovered an extensive explanation for the discounted pricing!
The owner, Miss A, explained that she and her hubby own 5 studio units in the apartment building in Kuala Lumpur and have been leasing them out on Airbnb for a few years. This appeared believable as the apartment, Regalia Residences is famous for being an expat residential hotspot. Miss A elaborated that she and her hubby are planning to migrate to Europe and are looking to rent out their units urgently.
Hence they are willing to rent it out for half the price as long they can secure a long-term tenant.
2. Upon registering interest, the ‘landlord’ comes up with an excuse – he/she is out of the country and puts off showing the unit in person.
Also, watch out for ‘dodgy’ assurances – Note how Miss A went on to declare that there are no hidden charges, without me questioning anything at this point of the conversation.
3. NEVER transfer money online – a legitimate landlord will not ask you for a ‘booking’ fee.
Miss A then agreed to meet me sometime later that week and assured me that she will get back to me with the exact date and time for my viewing appointment. After confirming the date from me, she immediately made her ‘move’:
4. Channel your inner ‘Nancy Drew’ and research the owner/landlord
When Miss A requested for a booking fee even before I can view the unit I knew that I am dealing with a crook. I proceeded to Google her full name (which was provided in the listing). The first result that popped up was the FB page of this local businesswoman, Miss B who owns a Muslimah wear line. She even had a blog showcasing her business’s success and detailing her frequent trips overseas.
Taking it a step further, I saved her WhatsApp image and conducted a reverse image search on Google. To my surprise, it belongs to someone else, another famous Instagrammer and social influencer, a Miss Nadia. Note that the Instagram image below is the same one used by Miss A as her Whatsapp contact image.
Be especially vigilant as online fraud is growing at an alarming rate
Khalil Adis, Founder of Khalil Adis Consultancy can attest to this – In his recent interview with ASP Che Harun from the Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID), Subang Jaya Police Headquarters; the police shared that online scam cases have been on an uptick. The modus operandi involves buyers transferring money to the sellers’ account. However, the goods will not be delivered.
What can you do as a consumer?
In this digital age, where anyone can be a ‘seller’ online, consumers must be very careful when shopping online. In my case, a RM400 ‘booking fee’ might not be much, but it is still hard-earned money! Remember to not let your emotions rule when deciding on purchasing decisions and spend that extra 10-20 minutes to conduct some due diligence. Should you suspect that an online ad is not legit, make sure to flag the listing or contact the website where the ad is posted to report its fraudulence.
Happy shopping and be careful!