From The Straits Times    |

The police are investigating a case in which a man allegedly duped multiple victims of more than $30,000 after promising to rent out a flat in Jurong.

An ongoing HDB rental scam at Block 166A Yung Kuang Road

Multiple reports have been lodged against the “landlord”, who has been accused of pocketing rents and deposits from more than 30 groups of victims since 2019, Chinese-language paper Shin Min Daily News reported on Sunday.

A 34-year-old accountant, who wanted to be known only as Ms Lin, told Shin Min that a man approached her online with an offer for a four-room Housing Board flat at Block 166A Yung Kuang Road after she posted on a Facebook group in March that she was looking for a place to stay.

The man, who called himself Alan, said he was renting out the unit to ease his financial burden as his wife was having a baby in Vietnam, said Ms Lin.

After an in-person viewing of the flat, Ms Lin said she transferred $6,400 worth of rent and deposit to the man.

Stopped from moving in after signed agreement

She said: “After signing the agreement, the other party kept delaying the move-in date.

“This was finally extended to May 1, when the landlord told me the day before that he will no longer rent the flat.”

Ms Lin visited the flat on May 1 to demand an explanation from the “landlord” and bumped into another group of tenants for the same unit with their belongings at the foot of the block.

The women told her that they also had intended to move in that night, Ms Lin told Shin Min.

Another victim, who wanted to be known only as Ms Hong, told Shin Min she had transferred $2,300 as deposit.

The 25-year-old accountant said she intended to rent the flat with two colleagues. She said the man said he was looking to rent out his unit as his family was moving to his late father’s flat.

“He initially told us that we could move in the day before. But once we were prepared to move in, he suddenly said we could not do so,” she added.

An online group for rental scam victims from Facebook and Carousell

Ms Lin told Shin Min that she created a group for victims after finding more people in the same predicament via the Internet.

Checks by The Straits Times found a Facebook post on May 4 that warned people of a rental scam involving a flat in the same block.

Altogether, six groups of victims have lost a total of $30,000 and made police reports against the landlord, Ms Lin added.

A number of police reports were filed for the same rental scam

Sources told Shin Min that, since 2019, more than 30 groups of victims have arrived at the flat to demand their money back. It is not known how many police reports have been filed in total.

Among these victims was one Ms Liu, who told Shin Min that she had transferred $6,000 of rent and deposit to the “landlord” but was stopped from moving into the property.

The 30-year-old accountant said another man in the flat had answered the door when she arrived to ask for an explanation, and the man had claimed he was a friend of the owner and was staying there for a few days.

Another victim showed, in a police report seen by Shin Min, that the person had made three transactions to the “landlord” after viewing a listing for the flat on Carousell.

The report said the victim had paid the “landlord” a total of $10,216.68, including one month’s rent, two months of deposit and $316.68 in stamp duty.

The police are investigating a case involving a man who allegedly duped victims of over $30,000 in exchange for renting a flat at Block 166A Yung Kuang Road. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

After multiple delays, the landlord’s Carousell account was blocked and became uncontactable, Shin Min reported.

After several visits by Shin Min to the flat went unanswered, a woman who the daily identified as the flat owner’s wife answered the door last Thursday at about 1pm.

The man had not been home for a long time

She told Shin Min that her husband would solve his own issues and that the matter was none of her business.

She added that several people had come looking for her husband, including the police.

She also claimed that she did not know his whereabouts and he had not been home for a long time, Shin Min reported.

Over the past year, the tight property market has laid fertile ground for fraudsters to take advantage of people desperate to secure a place to rent.

In 2022, the number of home rental scams via online platforms surged to 979 cases, up from 192 cases in 2021.

Last week, Minister of State for Home Affairs and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said the police have been working with online platforms to remove suspicious accounts and advertisements and are also working with the Council for Estate Agencies to include advisories on rental scams on social media.

This article was originally published in The Straits Times.