Police warn of property agent scam after close to 1,000 people lose $3.9 million

The scammers impersonate legitimate property agents, asking victims for payment to secure rental of a unit before viewing it. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - At least 997 people here have lost a total of $3.9 million since January after they fell victim to scammers posing as property agents, the police said on Friday (Aug 26).

There has been a resurgence of scammers impersonating legitimate property agents and asking victims for payment to secure the rental of a unit before viewing the property, according to the police advisory.

The police said victims would typically respond to online property listings and initiate a conversation with the scammers via WhatsApp using the contact numbers in the fake listings.

During the conversation, the scammer posing as a registered property agent would convince the victim of his credentials by sending a photo of the agent's business card and pictures or videos of the property to be leased.

The scammer would then ask for the victim's personal details to prepare the lease agreement.

When the victims asked if they could view the property, the scammers would claim that the landlord was unavailable. To add an air of legitimacy, the scammers would send a copy of the lease agreement with the name and NRIC of the purported owner of the unit to the victims for them to sign.

After signing, the victims would be instructed to make payment for various reasons such as rental deposits, stamp duty, or other fees to secure the rental.

They would discover that they had been cheated only after the scammers ceased contact with them, or when they reached out to the legitimate property agents through other means.

The police advised members of the public to adopt precautionary measures such as verifying the legitimacy of a property listing.

They can do so by liaising with a property agent using only the agent's phone number registered on the Council for Estate Agencies' (CEA) public register. Members of the public may check whether a property agent is registered with the CEA by searching for the agent's phone number on the register.

If the search does not lead to the property agent's profile page, it means the agent has not registered that phone number with the CEA and the listing may be fake.

The public can also contact the agent's property agency to verify the authenticity of the listing.

Members of the public are also urged to beware of calls with the "+" prefix that originate from overseas, not to make any payments before a property viewing, and not to disclose personal information, credit card and bank details or passwords, including one-time passwords, to anyone.

Anyone with information related to such scams can call the police hotline at 1800-255-0000, or submit an online report at this website.

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