SINGAPORE: For property agent Alan Wee, getting plenty of calls about rental listings is to be expected amid a booming rental market.
But he was left puzzled after his phone started buzzing last week with enquiries about some properties for rent. He did not have any such listings.
The alarm bells then began ringing when an upset caller asked why he had to transfer him S$2,500 again.
Confused, Mr Wee said: “Transfer what?”
“(The person) said: ‘I already transferred you S$2,500 – the first time you said you never received it. So you asked me to transfer again," Mr Wee told CNA.
“I said: ‘Oh my God, I think you kena (have been) scammed.’”
Mr Wee later discovered that the caller, a foreigner in his 30s, had transferred a S$2,500 deposit to someone impersonating him, in the hope of securing a flat viewing.
He had become a victim of an emerging scam type, in which scammers impersonate property agents, put up fake listings, and ask clients to fork out money for a viewing appointment.
Since January this year, 144 victims have lost at least S$190,000 to such scams, police said.
“MY NAME WILL BE TARNISHED”
The same night, Mr Wee made a police report and posted alerts on his social media.
“I was a bit annoyed, but also concerned about customers being scammed,” said the full-time agent from ERA Realty, who quickly flagged the incident to others who had enquired about the “property”.
Being impersonated by the scammer – who had used his name, photos and official agent registration number – was also frustrating.
“Someone using my name, my name will be tarnished in a way,” the 42-year-old told CNA.
“What surprised me is that joker even had my name card. I never post my name card anywhere, except when I give it out. Nowadays, I seldom give out my name card – and not many ask for name cards too.”
The scam has also affected his daily life as it is “a bit troublesome to entertain” the enquiries from the scam listings – though he added that it “is a must” to do so.
He said that the enquiries mostly came from a fake listing on marketplace platform Carousell, and other smaller property listing sites.
Still, Mr Wee is taking the incident in his stride. “That’s life, we just move on. I just hope this episode can clear (up).”
SCAMMERS ALSO TARGETED NON-ACTIVE PROPERTY AGENTS
Another agent, who declined to be named, said he found out he had been impersonated when two victims contacted him last Friday.
“I saw the news that came out last week, so I was not surprised,” he told CNA.
But the agent, who has not been actively promoting his services, nor made a transaction in recent years, said: “I think, probably, they chose any agent and just did it.”
A third agent who was targeted said: “They probably want to choose a non-active agent … If not, people can verify (their details more easily).”
The agent, who only wanted to be known as Mr Goh, said his company was the one who told him he had been impersonated.
“The scammer provided the client with an invoice with a proper letterhead, everything, so they called head office to say ... ‘How come your agent didn’t appear (for the viewing)?’
"From there, they realised it was a scam.”
Mr Goh continued: “Confirm – it’s a scam, because I don’t do any transactions now ... I know I got zero, so I said: ‘No way!’”
But the incident didn’t come as a shock to him.
“I know this type of scammer wants to reach victims from all angles. I’m exposed … to all these calls (from other scam types) every week.”
He added: “From online scams, love scams, now become property scams. They’re damn creative, they just swing.”
Shortly after the first incident, another upset caller rang up to ask why he had not shown up for a viewing.
“I told him, 'you’re a victim, you better go report to the police'. Because there is no such scenario that a legitimate property agent will receive money first before (a flat viewing).”
The victim was a Singaporean looking to rent a three-room flat, he added.
HOW TO AVOID THESE SCAMS
The police stressed that payments should not be made before house viewings as property agents are not authorised to handle cash transactions.
Members of the public should also be wary of numbers with the +65 prefix – especially on WhatsApp – as well as property listings on “alternative platforms”, they said.
To verify an agent’s legitimacy, ensure that the contact number on the listing matches the one on the agent’s profile in the Council for Estate Agencies’ public register.