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Beware fake landlords

Looking at the latest round of numbers, it appears as if more and more expats are becoming victim of dodgy landlords, bogus lease agreements, deposits that simply disappear and a host of other rental issues that leaves fresh arrivals swindled even before they had a chance to settle down in their newly adopted home.

In fact, Consumers Association of Singapore, CASE, a consumer advocate organisation there that keeps track of complaints logged by people that have been duped, found that in the October 2008 - March 2009 period foreigners lodged 32 out of the total of 365 complaints against realty agents. This constitutes a 23% increase from the 26, out of 516 complaints in the same period a year before. Meanwhile, the Institute of Estate Agents in Singapore received five complaints from foreigners since October 2009. Perhaps tellingly, none the agents involved was IEA registered. The most common complaints were overcharging and not honoring agreements made, especially when it came to returning deposits and advanced payments.

Another quite common ruse is the fake landlord. Recently, the Singapore Straits Times reported on a suspected fake landlord who claimed to be the owner of an apartment on 14 Scotts Road and was looking to rent out his unit. However, this address is actually the location of a shopping centre called Far East Plaza. After pressing him for more details, he hung up and never replied to the paper's inquiries again.

As expat populations grow, conmen like this are seemingly becoming ever more numerous and ever more brazen, targeting foreigners in particular who are looking to rent a property. New arrivals are especially easy targets because obviously they're not as clued in to the property industry as the local population or long-term expats.

Posing as condo owners, these conmen send potential tenants fake addresses and pictures of well-furnished homes to entice unsuspecting foreigners into transferring security deposits to them. When these tenant hopefuls request for a meeting, the "landlord" simply claims to be overseas for business. Eventually, as in the case above, the tricksters are never heard from again.

The lesson to be learned here is to always make sure that the landlord you are dealing with is indeed the owner of the property you are interested in. Better yet, enlist a realty agent with plenty of local knowledge to filter out the bad apples for you so you have one less potential headache to worry about.

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