African scammers have latched onto another lucrative scam, this time involving properties and real estate. A number of houses were sold without the knowledge or permission of their owners and the scammers vanished with the proceeds, leaving the buyers with massive debts and no real estate to show for it. Scammers have also targeted rental income. Two properties in Western Australia were fraudulently sold and under former West Australian law, those properties remained with the new owners and this was grossly unfair.
The scammers will find a property owner who is living overseas or has gone on extended overseas holidays. The scammers will then masquerade as the property owner and arrange with a real estate agent to put the property up for sale. Mail to the real owner would be intercepted by the scammers who have hacked the owner's email account and they would respond to the real estate agents as if they were the real owner. Using forged credentials, the scammers would set up an offshore bank account using the property owner's real name, but a fake date of birth.
Once the sale was concluded, the money would be transferred from the real estate agent's trust account to that offshore bank account and the promptly withdrawn and the account closed down. This is what happened in the two Western Australian cases, where the funds went to the Bank of China that refused to cooperate with Australian police. Once this happens, the scammers literally get away scot-free with hundreds of thousands of dollars and the real owner can lose his property, as occurred in Western Australia.
The important thing about such property scams is that they work because the real property owner has no idea that his property is being sold by scammers. So when travelling or moving overseas, the real property owner needs to ensure that his communications are completely secure and that a friend can keep an eye on his property and inform him of anything untoward, such as a For Sale sign suddenly appearing on the property. The owner needs to ensure that his email account is completely secure and has not been hacked.
Any property scam relies on the ignorance of the property owner and the buyer victim. By ignorance, this means that the victim remains oblivious to the fact that his property is being sold by scammers. So a few easy safeguards can stop scammers from succeeding and property owners who live overseas can be assured that their property will remain in their hands.
The biggest travesty in this sort of scam is that the property laws do not protect property owners. In the case of the two scammed properties in Western Australia, the titles went to the property purchasers and the real property owners lost their properties through no fault of their own. This is so wrong, because the properties should have been considered to be stolen goods and if so, the ownership should always remain with the original owners, no matter whether the sale was made by the real estate agent in good faith and the buyers were innocent parties.
The hard fact is that those properties were literally stolen from the real owners and should have been returned to them. But idiotic Western Australian law meant that the people who bought somebody else's properties from scammers got to keep them and that is not only unfair, but truly a miscarriage of justice.
This swindle is a lot more simple than the property sale scam. In one variation, a con artist finds a property, pretends to be the owner, lists it online, then communicates with the would-be renter and takes a cash deposit. The renter is left with nothing or ends up squatting on someone else's vacant property while paying "rent" to a fraudster, all unbeknown to the property's real owner.
In a more complex swindle, a scammer will rent out a vacant home belonging to somebody else to a tenant. When many homes sit empty and thousands of people are in need of cheap housing, someone is eventually going to put the two together. In this case, the scammer steps in to take advantage of the situation. He finds an abandoned property, or even two or three and creates an online advertisement pretending to be either the owner or someone authorised to rent on the owner's behalf.
He then breaks into the property, sometimes changing the locks and typically asks to be paid in cash. For instance, when a house sits vacant for a while, it becomes easier to take advantage of it. Six months of collecting rent at $3,000 per month is a lucrative way to make money, especially when the outlay for the scammer is so minimal.. Even simpler is the swindle where a scammer will lure potential renters into paying a bond and a few weeks rent and then vanishing. The potential renters show up to move into the property in question and discover that the property was not available for rent and the real owner has no idea what has been going on.
One really good way to avoid such a scam is to never send any payments via irrevocable means such as Western Union or MoneyGram, especially to overseas recipients. Many rental scams rely on victims wiring money to overseas locations and just like the Nigerian oil and other Internet scams, once the money is transferred, there is no way to retrieve it. Money transfer companies have a lot to answer for, because they facilitate virtually all the Internet scams in the world. If irrevocable money transfers were banned globally, the entire Internet scam industry would collapse.
So the one big tip for potential renters is to check the bona-fides of the owners of the rental properties and ensure that they are not impostors. The other thing is to never pay money to overseas locations or indeed by Western Union or MoneyGram to anybody - ever.