By Jingyun WANG, 1st JUNE , 2016
An international student was swindled by a bogus landlord out of $6000 in a new type of rental scam, when taking a flat in Rhodes, Sydney.
“It’s totally beyond my wildest imagination.”
Dolores curled upon on the sofa, eating chips and watching TV. It was a warm afternoon, on Wednesday, April 20, 2016, the second day she moved in this flat. After two hours tidying, she looked around her new home, feeling a sort of satisfied but tired. She decided to have a rest. Noisy from the TV was some big, but her focus was not on the programme, she just needed a little background sound and continued to think. She hesitated whether to buy some household articles from IKEA which is only about one kilometre away. By the way, she wanted to hang out the nearby to explore some greens or parks, wondering where she could walk with her dog Shasha who was still staying a pet care centre then.
Suddenly, the door was opened, a man walked in, glanced around the living room, and finally looked at Dolores, asking whether she is the friend of Chen and how many days she would stay in there? At present, Dolores felt instinctively there was something wrong and something odd. Chen was indeed the man whom she took this flat from, but they were not friends, did not know each other until a few days ago. Further, she would not live here several days; she had signed a half-year rental contract with Chen.
The man who was standing in the living room is the real principle tenant of the flat. The fact is that Chen rented a bedroom daily and pretended to be the landlord of the flat to let Dolores, defrauding her of 6000 AUD.
Dolores called police immediately and waited for the police officer to arrive. “Tough time, my mind went blank,” she said, “it’s totally beyond my wildest imagination.”
Rental scams are not new things, especially for oversee students in Australia. According to a report by Sydney Morning Herald, a number of heavy rental rip-offs aiming to international students happened in Sydney in 2010, so that both the University of Sydney and the University of NSW warned their students not to readily believe renting message. Similarly, Meld Magazine, a media outlet target to international students’ affairs in Melbourne, reported rental scams in 2012.
To nip these frauds in the bud, all media, universities, the government and other institutions give tips to inspect the places before paying deposit and bonds. “Insist on inspecting the property-a drive-by is not enough. With these types of scams, the property may genuinely exist, but it is owned by someone else,” claimed by Australian Competition &Consumer Commission.
But for Dolores, inspecting is not enough, she met a master scammer. Although the feeling of uneasy had appeared in her mind a few times during the renting process, the real flat and keys melted here mistrust away.
“But he answered me that ‘you already have keys and pictures of my Photo ID…nothing are worth of worrying,”
In earlier April, Dolores went back to Sydney after long summer holidays and planned to take a whole flat closer to the college. She searched online and also posted to-rent messages in several websites and platforms. Before long, Chen replied her via WeChat and said he could apply a flat in Rhodes. Pictures of rooms were good and the rent was fair. Dolores quickly appointed the inspecting with Chen at the next day.
Weird things happened. Before entering the flat, Chen told Dolores a friend of a friend was still living in a room, he would request her leaving without offending friends. So before negotiating with his friend, he did not want to let that renter know. “He requested me to pretend to be his friend, came for casual visiting rather than inspecting,” Dolores said.
Although feeling strange, she accepted, “He looked honest and his attitude was sincere…it seemed he was that kind of man who highly valued the friendship.”
Dolores was satisfied with the flat. After considering over a night, she determined to rent it. A day after, she signed the contract, paid $3000 deposit and $1500 rent by cash in advance, and got the keys. But there was something that enabled Dolores to feel anxiety: the place where they met was a café rather than the flat, further, the contrast was extremely rough, only with rents and lease but without the address of the flat nor other details.
Dolores spoke out her doubt. “But he answered me that ‘you already have keys and pictures of my Photo ID…nothing are worth of worrying,” she retold their dialogue, and then was in silence.
“So you chose to trust him again,” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered and nodding, her face was expressionless, and her eyes fixed on the far away where Shasha played, speechless again for a little while. Then she looked back me, saying she moved into the flat in the following day and paid another $1500 rent. Everything seemed normal. “I thought I was too suspicious,” she said. However, she was not suspicious and the whole thing is worth of deliberateness.
“It was a lesson, I will never be cheated again.”
After realising the swindle, she nearly blacked out, cried, and did not know what to do anymore. At length, she called and texted a few close friends to come. A few hours later, two police officers from Burwood Police Station came and made a record. According to the Photo ID, police officers told her Chen has defrauded over ten International students in Sydney and one police officer is still tracing him.
Meanwhile, they also said Dolores’s case might be hard to be filed due to the insufficient evidence. “(It was because of) failing to compose the chain of evidence,” she said. This was one of a few things she could remember. Her brain was still clutter when dialoguing with police officers.
“It (the extremely simple and informal contract) is one of the critical barriers for Dolores’ case being filed,” said by Margaret Kirkby, who is the Senior Student Advice and Advocacy Officer from Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA), and has abandon experiences and legal knowledge of assisting international students to deal with rental issues.
She said under the Residential Tenancies Act, to sign a contract (lease) called a Residential Tenancy Agreement is necessary to rent a home. But most international students are not aware this, which increase the risk of being swindled.
“With the tenant having to complete this, it shows that their acting in good faith with the (Residential) Tenancy Act,” said she, “it also creates to get more evidence for the students who’s renting a home. It is a documentary prove.”
In addition to the rough contract, Ms. Kirkby emphasised that paying cash-in-hand was another significant issue in Dolores’s case and many others. “Do not ever agree to pay in cash, unless the other party writes you out of a valid receipt,” she said.
For Dolores, it is somewhat late. Considering the difficult to limit the damage, she eventually did not go the police station in nest day to formally submit the files. After being putting up in her friend’s room for the several nights, Dolores finally rented a new flat and moved in with her Shasha. She said she no longer minded it, “it was a lesson, I will never be cheated again.” Then she drew a deep sign as if bowing out the suffering inside her.
Like Dolores, a high percentage of victims just gave up like Dolores, but Ms. Kirkby encouraged them to take action. She also expressed a willingness of assistance for Dolores.
According to the requirement of Burwood Police Station, the cheater’s name, “Chen”, in the article is an alias.
(Jingyun Wang SID 450078642)