Published: 09 May 2023
Ms Yeo Wan Ling: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether the number of home rental scams using online platforms has increased in the past 12 months; and (b) whether the Ministry will consider introducing further safeguards to protect homeowners whose homes have been used in such scams from liabilities.
Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Social and Family Development:
1. Madam Deputy Speaker, the number of home rental scams perpetrated via online platforms, such as e-commerce platforms and social media platforms, increased from 192 cases in 2021 to 979 cases in 2022.
2. These cases generally involved scammers impersonating property agents, and listing home rentals on online platforms. Victims who come across these listings would contact the scammers via the phone numbers on the listings. The scammers would impersonate legitimate property agents by sending the victims pictures of a legitimate property agent’s business card, as well as pictures or videos of the home units to be leased. There were also cases where the scammers posed as landlords.
3. In both these variants, the scammers would inform the victims that they are required to place a deposit, in order to secure a viewing or to rent the unit. After the victims transfer the monies to the scammers, the scammers would become uncontactable.
4. The Member had asked about safeguards to protect the real homeowners whose homes have been used in such scams, from liabilities. Such homeowners will not be penalised unless they are involved in perpetrating these scams.
5. The Police have been working with online platforms to remove suspicious accounts and advertisements, as well as with the Council for Estate Agencies, or CEA, to include advisories on rental scams on CEA’s social media channels.
6. The best defence is a vigilant and discerning public. We encourage the public to verify the identity of the persons with whom you are dealing with. If the person claims to be a property agent, please verify their identity via the CEA Public Register. You can also contact the person’s property agency, before entering into any dealings with them. If a search of the advertised phone number does not lead to the property agent’s profile page, this could be an indication that the listing is a scam, even if the property agent’s name or registration number has been verified against the CEA Public Register.