It appears that scammers have been working over time in recent years. As an industry where large transactions are handled frequently, it was only a matter of time before real estate customers would be targeted.
Victims of property scams unlikely to retrieve lost money
Tenants and home buyers have been hit hard. As of September 2022, Singapore officials have already seen at least 1,000 victims lose close to $4 million since January, as a result of numerous property agent impersonation scams.
This appears to be the latest trick in the scammers’ playbook. Using the publicly available details of legitimate realtors, scammers have convinced prospective tenants to fork out hundreds or even thousands of dollars in deposits to secure slots for alleged ‘property viewing’ sessions. And to convince their victims, the scammers would send the property agent’s business card to convince victims of their credentials.
Property agents who were unfortunate enough to have their personal identities stolen had to endure heated calls from understandably angry customers who were ghosted once transactions were complete.
While police authorities and property agencies are aware of the situation, victims of this latest string of swindle cases are unlikely to retrieve their money. It is thus important for home tenants and buyers to act as the last line of defence for themselves – by learning how licensed, legitimate property agents operate, as well as the common tactics of realtor impersonators.
How to differentiate between fake and legitimate house listings
All property agents in Singapore are legally required to be registered with the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) through a licensed property agency, such as Ohmyhome. Before entering negotiations with any property agent, checking their registration status on the CEA Public Register will serve as the first step in verifying their legitimacy. We talk about this in depth here.
Home buyers can key in details of their property agent, including their unique CEA registration number (e.g. R123456A), into the CEA Public Register portal. From there, you will be able to access the following details regarding your property agent:
- Property transaction history of all deals closed within the last two years
- Accolades and awards that they may have earned throughout their career
- Any trace of disciplinary records
This gives you the best bet in making an informed decision when choosing a property agent to work with you. If a property agent cannot be found on the registry, they are most likely a fraud or an illegally practising agent. Either way, that will be your cue to hightail out of that situation.
You can also use this opportunity to cross check a realtors’ credentials to see if they have been upfront and honest with you. You’re choosing a home to buy or rent, after all. You’ll want an agent who is 100% transparent with you about who they are, someone you can trust to point out flaws, damages or constraints within a home before you find out for yourself.
What requirements does CEA have for property advertisements?
Sometimes, the house listing advertisement itself can reveal whether or not a property agent is legitimate. Instead of going through the hassle of keying in their personal details into CEA, some scammers give themselves away by not including all the CEA required details in their ads.
According to CEA’s Advertising Guidelines for Estate Agents and Salespersons, all property commercials must include the following details:
- Estate agent or salesperson’s name
- Estate agent or salesperson’s licence number
- Estate agent or salesperson’s CEA registration number
- Estate agent or salesperson’s official business contact number
On top of that, advertisements must abide by the Practise Guidelines on Ethical Advertising and the Code of Ethics & Professional Client Care. This includes the display of legitimate photos in their unadulterated form and proper substantiation of any promotions or claims of investment opportunities.
Any real estate agent worth their salt would follow these guidelines closely, or risk having their licence revoked. So look out for these details and to save yourself some valuable time from dialling for illegitimate agents.
*Keep in mind that newspaper classified advertisements and phone text adverts only require two details: the property agent’s name and phone number. For these two specific advertorial mediums, the agent’s name can be in abbreviated form as well due to the physical constraints of the media (e.g. limited character count or page space).
Things that legitimate property agents will never do
As some unsuspecting home viewers found out, verifying an agent’s identity is not a foolproof way of protecting yourself against scams. Some scammers have even gone as far as creating fake identity cards to add to their illusion of legitimacy.
But no matter how convincing their facade is, scammers will not be able to fully emulate the professionalism and service delivery of actual real estate agents. The former seeks to attain money from you in exchange for nothing, while the latter is an expert in helping people seek a roof over their heads. Because their goals are different, the behaviour of scammers will deviate from that of a legitimate agent at one point or another.
Things that a real property agent will never do include:
- Request money for viewings upfront: Not only does CEA not authorise property agents to handle cash transactions, property agencies also do not charge money for home viewings, let alone for houses that viewers have not ever stepped foot in. Property agencies will never ask tenants or buyers to transfer money directly into a personal savings account. If you’re ever in doubt, contact the agency that the listor claims to be representing to verify if the transactions being requested are legitimate.
- Quote unrealistic dimensions and prices for homes: As experts of the housing market, property agents know the dimensions and prices of homes inside and out. One reported scammer claimed that a three-bedroom unit being listed was only 140 sq ft in size. This is where seeking a second opinion and doing your own market research comes in, because anyone familiar with houses in Singapore would know that 140 sq ft is the average size of one room, not an entire three-bedroom unit.
- Contact you with an overseas number (if you are in Singapore): As of April 2020, telcos have added the +65 prefix to caller IDs to alert the public that they are being contacted from overseas. Unless you are expecting a call from abroad, a general best practice would be to avoid picking up calls or responding to messages from these numbers.
Should you suspect any online property listing to be fraudulent, you may submit a report to the Singapore Police Force via telephone at 1800-255-0000 or their I-Witness portal online.
Find your home with a peace of mind, with quality transactions at Ohmyhome
There’s really no need to deal with shoddy scammers online, when you can have access to the top 1% of CEA-certified real estate agents here at Ohmyhome. Unlike scammers who ditch you midway, Ohmyhome agents will walk you through the entire house hunting process, from the initial search all the way until you’ve settled nicely into your new home.
Do home transactions the safe and secure way. Ohmyhome’s smart data-matching technology can MATCH you with the right home that fits all your rental needs. Simply submit your preferences and let our algorithm do all the work. Our Super Agents will contact you via WhatsApp the moment a match is found – and you can verify every single one of them on CEA’s public registry.
Contact us through any of the options below to find the most affordable rental homes that best fits your financial and living needs, or simply message our Super Agents via the chat box at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. If you’re on the go, we’re also available on WhatsApp—we’ll be in touch with you in less than a minute. Because at Ohmyhome, we’re always by your side, always on your side.
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