AUSTRALIAN renters have been warned about an elaborate scam involving fake property listings posted on a major real estate website.
The scam, which has been reported to authorities, targets prospective tenants of a luxury rental in the up-market Melbourne suburb of Albert Park.
It is understood the scammer used a fake advertisement on real estate website domain.com.au. When a user sends an online inquiry about the property, the scammer, posing as the landlord, asks for credit card details to secure the lease.
Martin Haak, 39, sent an inquiry regarding a property listed in Albert Park via his Domain account and received an email from a man posing as a landlord. The ad did not include the property address, but was listed at $700 per week - much less than the average luxury Albert Park rental. "There was no agent on the listing and no contact information nor was there an address," Haak said. "They said inquire for the details."
Haak received an email from the scammer describing the property and with photographs of an Albert Park house currently listed on the site. "I did a search on Google and found there was a listing for that exact property and it was a completely different price," Haak says. Haak, who works in IT, suspected something was wrong.
"He eventually sent me a fake TripAdvisor email," Haak explains. The email included booking confirmation details and required credit card details. "He said that once payment had been received I would get the keys," Haak says.
"The email almost had me. Even though it has TripAdvisor in the address, it's not the TripAdvisor domain. I hope no one's lost $2000."
Domain said it was an isolated incident caused by a breach of a real estate agent's security. But in an email sent to Domain account holders on Saturday, the company said it had removed a number of fraudulent listings in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and Darwin.
Agent Jo Worrell of Greg Hocking Albert Park was alerted after it became clear that the property details the scammer was using belonged to one of her clients. "I've never experienced it but I've heard of this happening. People should always go through a reputable agent and never deal with someone who's contacted them directly via email," Worrell says.
Domain spokesman Brad Hatch said the website was "safe and secure".
"The issue you refer to is a single isolated incident relating to a breach of an agent's online security, not ours.
"We have processes in place to ensure the integrity of listings on our site.
"We encourage agents to be vigilant about their online security, including offering two-factor authentication as an additional security measure."
Real estate scams can be reported on the Consumer Affairs Victoria website or the CAV Helpline 1300 55 81 81.