A student moving to Auckland is disappointed that the first ‘welcome’ to the city loses $1,000 to an online rental scam.
Angela Sun arrived in Auckland last Thursday, only to find herself nearly homeless after being ghosted by the person she paid $1,000 to get a CBD apartment.
Sun’s experience comes as scams have increased by 16% over the past year, with those involving buying, selling or donating goods online being the largest category, according to CERT NZ.
CERT NZ said $3.9 million was lost in this category of scams in 2021, which includes rental scams.
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“I thought Auckland was unwelcoming, and maybe I should just go back to Dunedin,” said the 22-year-old, who was looking forward to starting a degree in criminology at the University of Technology in ‘Auckland.
Sun, who had previously posted on a Facebook community group seeking housing advice, was approached by someone who offered her a one-bedroom apartment for $250 a week including expenses.
After signing a rental agreement and seeing videos and photos of the apartment, Sun paid $1,000 to a Kiwibank Account.
Sun said she thought she got a good deal and admitted she didn’t know rental prices in Auckland.
After arriving at the building on Queen Street, Sun said the scammer stopped responding. The building manager then told her that the contract she had signed was fraudulent and that the room she had been offered was rented.
Chat records show the scammer also wanted Sun to sign up for an international money transfer app, which Sun declined, feeling insecure about the personal information requested.
Sun went to the police station, with her three suitcases, to report the incident. She ended up in temporary accommodation before finding a permanent place on Monday.
“Facebook groups are where young people go, and young people – innocent and naive – try to find the best deals within their budget.
“Yet there are hunters out there looking for prey,” said Sun, who wishes more people knew about it.
Sun said the police told him the scammers were based overseas.
According to Jordan Heersping, Acting Head of Incident Response at CERT NZ, around 230 incidents reported over the past three years were Facebook-related.
He added that this doesn’t mean that Facebook is more or less a place to get scammed, but that people should be wary of messages they receive with offers that are too good to be true.
A police spokesperson said they had received a report that someone had paid for rental accommodation that did not exist.
He said police were evaluating the report and could not comment on specifics at this stage.
Facebook, now known as Meta, has been approached for comment. A spokesperson for Meta said the company is investigating Sun’s incident.
Green Party tenants spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick said the scammer’s actions to take advantage of someone’s desperate need in the midst of a housing crisis are “deeply cruel”.
Swarbrick said the Greens wanted to see a rental WOF, rent controls and a register of landlords and property managers – where tenants can validate listings through a platform similar to that of the Companies Office.
“These scams happen because those systems don’t exist, which is precisely why the rental system is so baked in that desperate people are taking desperate measures and undue leaps of faith,” she said.
In February 2022, the government proposed a licensing scheme for rental property managers subject to a code of compliance and a fit and suitable person test.
The document was in consultation until April 19, but the bill will not be ready until 2023.