Safeguard yourself from falling victim to a property scam

Property scamming is quickly becoming a widespread crime in South Africa. Many people fall victim to these scams due to being uninformed about the real estate market and not knowing what to look out for.

Considering the high amount of money and time involved in both buying and renting property, it’s extremely important that you take your time to research the agency, buyer, lessor and the actual property.

Below, we take you through common property scams in South Africa and what you can do to prevent falling victim to a real estate scam.

Common property scams in South Africa

  1. Hijacked online advertising

    This is a property scam that has been quite prevalent in South Africa in recent years, particularly in Cape Town. Criminals find real listings of properties on legitimate websites and republish them to lesser known websites, changing contact details and prices. This scam is common for short-term property rentals as people sometimes jump into bookings or rentals and therefore don’t tend to question the finer details.

  2. Spear phishing

    Spear phishing is a type of fraud where the criminal’s goal is to steal sensitive information from the victim such as personal information, account credentials or financial information.

  3. Impersonation Fraud or Identity Theft

    Once a criminal has collected enough information about a person, they can assume a new identity based on the victim’s genuine data. This information can be obtained from a number of sources. Previously physical sources such as mailboxes or trash were used but with the widespread use of social media and other online sources, criminals can pick up sensitive information from easily accessible public information.

  4. Falsely advertising a property

    Not as serious as the previously mentioned scams, but this would still have a detrimental effect on buyers under the impression that they’ve invested in a good quality property. False advertising in real estate can mean the seller leaving out negative details about the property such as burst piping, pest invasion or even certain appliances (such as the geyser or built-in oven) not being in working condition.

How to safeguard yourself against property scams

  1. Use well-known property search portals

    Use portals that are well-known and have good reviews or that have been referred to you by someone you trust. These property portals follow a strict security process in order to establish both ownership and property quality before listing.

  2.  Double-check the email address and contact details

    If you have been conducting property research via email, be sure to double-check the email address carefully. Criminals often change a character or two in email addresses that make it difficult to differentiate from the official company email. If you’re unsure, contact the company itself to validate the person you are dealing with.

  3. Read the tone of the message

    Fraudsters commonly use scare tactics in an attempt to have you agree to a sale agreement quicker. Look out for people asking you to pay urgently to secure your property or similar threats.

  4. Always meet the seller in person

    A professional agent, or landlord will always agree to meet you in person to show you around the property and build a sense of trust for the deal. Be cautious if the person avoids meetings as this could mean they are committing identity theft and don’t want you picking up on it in person.

  5. Don’t pay in cash

    It’s important to have a paper trail for many reasons. If the seller does turn out to be a fraud, it will be much easier to report them and hopefully track them if money is paid into a bank account rather than cash.

  6. Insist on a signed, written agreement

    In no circumstance should you make a deposit or pay for a property without a written agreement that, in the best circumstance has been reviewed by a lawyer. Remember to also keep a copy of the agreement for yourself.

If you’d like further information before investing in real estate, contact our expert team who will gladly assist.