How to spot a rental scammer 

Avoid losing thousands while making your plans for the end-of-year rental holidays by following these easy steps

September is peak time for South Africans making their plans for the end-of-year holidays. Many will book online as they get a vast range of locations and an ability to compare prices.

Estelle Nagel, Vertical Marketing & Brand Manager at Gumtree South Africa, says South Africans should follow very basic steps to ensure that they do not become victims of holidays fraud.

“The online space is getting more secure each year and the vast majority of users report a satisfactory experience and enjoy their rental holidays, but it really pays to be careful before parting with any money.”

Nagel says the most common scam is for people to rent out a property they don’t even own or to rent to several people at the same time.

READ MORE: 10 steps to becoming a happier landlord

 She suggests the following precautionary measures:

Check things out

Don’t be taken in by photos. Sometimes a scammer will pull a few images from a legitimate property site and use them as advertising bait. Before committing to a booking, ask the advertiser to send you additional photos of the property and, if possible, use Google Street View to confirm that the property is at the address advertised.

Confirm ownership

Request information about current ownership from the municipality online. There is a fee of about R150, but that’s a good investment in peace of mind. If you know someone in the area, ask them to call round to check on the property and the renter.

Get references

Ask the renter for references of previous guests. Not only can you confirm the legitimacy of the renter and the quality of the accommodation, but you can also get some tips about the place and the neighbourhood.

Cheap is not cheerful

The December holiday is peak season. If rates are seductively cheap, then there may well be a problem. A cut-price bargain, without adequate explanation, should raise alarm bells. One counter-attack is to offer a far lower amount of rental than the listed rate and if the offer is accepted quickly, that is a pretty sure sign of a scammer.

READ MORE: Rental scam red flags

Have a suspicious mind

Keep a hawk eye out for suspicious behaviours during your communication with the renter. If he or she is evasive, or hounding you constantly to make a decision or a payment, that should send up a red flag. Bad spelling, foreign telephone numbers, names related to the location or a refusal to share information are all warning signs. Insist on speaking to the renter in person.