Students fall prey to web scamsters

The Wits University Great Hall. Image courtesy

Those posing as landlords usually demand upfront holding fees.

Fraudsters are taking advantage of students who turn to the internet to find properties to rent, demanding upfront rental and deposit payments before vanishing with the cash.

The fraudulent landlords post adverts that require prospective student tenants to transfer money as holding deposits without visiting the property. In doing so, students are led into believing they are proving that they are able to afford the rental.

Monica Mokgabudi, a first-year student at the University of Johannesburg, lost the R1 800 she paid to a fake landlord as a deposit. “I was looking through Gumtree when I saw affordable accommodation. This guy was advertising a commune in Brixton. My friend and I went to view the place,” she said.

“When we got there, it was decent and spacious. The guy told us to pay the deposit and that a contract would be signed when we moved in.” After repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact the advertiser following payment, they discovered the landlord was a fake.

Another student from University of Pretoria was scammed out of her deposit and rent money. She only realised after paying that the property did not belong to the man behind the advert.

Ziyanda Ngubane said she was still in KwaZulu-Natal when she phoned the contact on Gumtree and “the lady asked me to transfer a holding deposit as places were in demand”. “My parents and I trusted the process, as they told us they dealt with a rental agency that was linked to the University of Pretoria,” she said.

Ngubane said the whole incident cost her and her family R5 000 for January. Those looking for accommodation should be aware that scammers usually advertise on free advertising websites. This is convenient because it does not cost them a dime to advertise the fake property. Universities countrywide have warned students to be vigilant during the search for accommodation.

University of Cape Town (UCT) spokesperson Elijah Moholola urged those seeking off-campus accommodation to use student housing departments. “Students are also cautioned against depositing money into accounts of people claiming to be landlords before all verification has been done,” Moholola said.

What students should do:

  • Never pay a “holding deposit”, rent or any money without visiting a property. Satisfy yourself that the landlord is legitimate and has the right to rent the property.
  • Avoid paying money online.
  • Never respond to a “Proof of Funds” scam where you are requested to “send money to a friend” and then send the details of the transaction to the “seller” to show they have sufficient money to pay a deposit.
  • This results in the “seller” withdrawing the funds using false identification. Beware of money mules – people used by criminals to receive money and then withdraw it to send it somewhere else, using a fake story or “job offer”.
  • The safest way is to make a payment by credit card in person at a letting agent’s office. A formal contract should be signed before any money changes hands.
  • Make sure the advert looks legitimate: avoid adverts with no photographs of the property or where multiple advert–

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