Property agent victim of impersonation in latest scam involving deposits to view homes

A fake listing of a Tampines unit posted on Carousell. The listing has since been removed. PHOTO: JESSIE LIM

SINGAPORE - Since last Monday (March 14), property agent Alan Wee, 42, has been receiving two to three calls every day inquiring about a three-bedroom unit in Tampines.

But Mr Wee, who specialises in marketing resale properties, does not have any such listing.

After talking to the callers, Mr Wee realised that he was a victim of impersonation, with scammers using his name and profile picture to ask for a deposit from potential buyers to view the unit.

Mr Wee, an ERA Realty agent, said: "The people calling me were anxious as they wanted to know whether they had secured a viewing. I think they must have found my number from websites.

"If you look at the listing, it claims the unit is 140 sq ft. That is the size of a bedroom, not a three-bedroom unit. It is a scam."

On Tuesday (March 22), the police confirmed a report was lodged.  

They had warned on Monday of a scam in which criminals pretend to be property agents and ask victims to pay money to secure an appointment for a viewing.

Victims would then be provided with bank account numbers and phone numbers to transfer the sum. They would realise they have been tricked after the scammers stop contacting them.

The Straits Times understands that at least two property agencies - ERA Realty and Huttons Group - have seen their agents impersonated.

Since January this year, at least 144 people have fallen victim to this scam with losses amounting to $190,000.

Speaking to ST on Monday evening, Mr Wee said he reported a fake listing of the Tampines unit that was posted on Carousell. 

Carousell said that the seller's account has been suspended based on data suggesting possible impersonation.

Property experts said that such scams could be making a comeback with Build-To-Order housing projects delayed and condominium and HDB rents on the rise.

Mr Nicholas Mak, ERA Realty head of research and consultancy, said: "Scammers target those who are less experienced in the property market, such as newly arrived foreigners or younger tenants desperate to secure a home.

"There is no such practice in the market where the customer needs to give a deposit just to view a property."

Dr Lee Nai Jia, deputy director of National University of Singapore's Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies, warned that as a result of these scams, property listing sites could suffer reputational losses.

He said: "Some agents still rely on cold calls to find new clients. But if potential buyers become more wary, they may request for face-to-face meetups, which are not so easy to organise during Covid-19 with safe distancing measures.

"If potential buyers find many fake listings on a property website, they may also move on to other portals."

Although the Carousell listing has been removed, the scammers impersonating him are still active on WhatsApp according to checks by ST.

Mr Wee said: "It is frustrating. This affects my reputation. When we sell houses, people hand over their most important asset to us to market because they trust us.

"I hope this doesn't happen to other agents."

How to protect yourself from property scams

1. View property listings from reputable and established portals.

2. Search for the property agent and his official mobile number on the Council for Estate Agencies' (CEA) public register. If the search does not lead to a property agent's profile page, it means that the phone number is not registered with CEA and could be an indication that the listing is fake.

3. Never sign a tenancy agreement or pay a rental deposit without physically viewing the property and meeting the agent.

4. Property agents are not authorised to handle cash transactions. Make payments through verifiable means such as crossed cheques or bank transfers directly to the landlord.

5. Beware of suspicious property listings. Check the dimensions, location, photos and reviews.

Sources: Council for Estate Agencies, ERA Realty, Singapore Police Force

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