Desperate for a place to call Home

by Dr Kerri O’Donnell.

Rarely have I ever been so angry…  My daughter and their partner have been living rough for almost three years.  Not on the streets, but not with the security of a place to call Home either.  Basically, they have been couch-surfing; staying in the spare rooms of friends or relatives while they continue applying for rentals.  Being so young (18 and 20), and students receiving government allowances, they have not been high on any rental agency’s priority list.

A couple of weeks ago, they were thrilled to receive a phone call from someone who had noticed they were searching for a rental property.  The interview and application process was handled via a series of about 40 emails, and several phone calls and texts with the property owner who explained that he travelled a lot for his work.

Rental Property advert
One of the pics supplied in the scam – which would have been stolen from a legitimate property site.

My daughter was so excited to be chosen as the tenant!  Finally, a place to call home.  After so many agency rejections, this new acceptance validated her as an adult, and the prospect of moving out of the dodgy area they were currently staying in was an enormous emotional relief.  It was also a bonus that the landlord was a successful oncologist, who didn’t need to charge high rent, and was more interested in giving young people a chance to find their feet.  Perhaps someone had helped him too…  Everything was finally perfect.

Too perfect, as it turned out.  The whole ten days of negotiation was a fraud scheme.  These people, posing as husband and wife (but probably part of a larger group) not only destroyed these kids’ long-awaited joy at having found a home, but also intended to take their means of getting any home at all – their savings for a deposit and the first month’s rent.

Rarely have I ever been so angry.  Right on the very last day of Australia’s National Consumer Fraud Awareness week, my daughter and her partner realised that they were caught up in an advance-payment fraud – the third most lucrative fraud category in Australia during 2016.

1
Source: ACCC, https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/news/spot-social-media-scams-national-consumer-fraud-week-2017

Yes, I’m angry because it’s my daughter.  Any parent would be.

I’m also angry at myself because I take pride in maintaining a Fraud Examiner credential, and I feel it’s my responsibility to educate others about the lowlife activities that put people (as well as their hard-earned money) at risk, and to recognise it for what it is when I hear clues about it.   In this case, I didn’t hear clues:  I just heard that my daughter was finally, and extraordinarily, happy.

In hindsight (which is always 20-20, isn’t it?), I did hear some clues, but they did not ring enough alarm bells for me to give them the consideration (or suspicion) that they deserved.  This was a very well-targeted scheme: It fit perfectly with what these young people needed most, and it sucked everybody in – right up to the point where they were expected to part with their money.

Untitled
Source: ACCC, https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/news/spot-social-media-scams-national-consumer-fraud-week-2017

I’m also angry at all the people who won’t listen: Everybody seems to think they can spot a scammer a mile off.  But you can’t.  Do you know why?  Because a ‘scammer’ isn’t just some bozo who sells watches out of his raincoat – he or she is anything from that to a white-collar organised crime ring participant.  The better they are at their job, the harder it is for anyone to spot.  They might appear to you as the love of your life – and as the graphic shows, dating and romance scams are the most lucrative.

Fraudsters don’t show up with bells and whistles to announce their motivations.
They get us by tugging at heart-strings.  

They might present to you as someone solving a problem that’s important to you – but what’s important to them is getting money or personal details or computer access so that they can further whatever crime they’re participating in.

I’m not suggesting that we should not trust each other.  But I am suggesting strongly insisting that we all keep our eyes and ears open, especially when a solution appears out of nowhere. The probability of encountering some form of scam/fraud is high, and the ways and means are endless, so being informed is uber-important.

Here are just a few resources found on the internet:

How to Spot a Scam
Spot a Scam
How to Spot a Con Artist

How to Spot an Online Scam
How to Spot Investment Fraud
How to Spot the Danger Signs of Fraud

20 Ways You Can Detect Fraud

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