A new form of ‘property’ fraud is on the rise in the UAE. A large number of people have been defrauded by scammers posing as property agents or brokers dealing in residential units.
Using fake IDs, tenancy contracts and false names to trick their victims, the fraudsters’ modus operandi involves showing homes and apartments to several prospective tenants, without the knowledge of the property owners, obtaining rent and commission fees from the former and then vanishing.
The police have warned that this type of real estate fraud is especially common in Sharjah and the phenomenon increases during times of high rental demand. Several scammers have been arrested by the police, after being caught posting ads offering apartments for cheap rents.
Lieutenant-Colonel Faisal bin Nassar, deputy director of Sharjah Police’s CID department, revealed that the swindlers showed their victims under-construction or partially-completed apartments that are usually left open, or empty flats in older buildings lacking security supervision. Once the victim agreed to rent and handed over cheques or cash deposit amounts, they would promptly disappear.
The perpetrators will be charged with posting fake ads, forging documents, trespassing on property and committing fraud, among others.
The police have asked the public to be cautious when checking out online ads and report any information they may have about such scammers.
One recent case involved an Asian man who listed cheap studio apartments online and in classified ads. He took callers to a newly-constructed apartment, claiming it was a sample unit of the other studios he was renting and demand an advance amount to book the flats.
After different police stations received multiple complaints, the police arrested the suspect, even though he used a fake name and different phone numbers to carry out his scam.
Victims share experiences
Anoop Pashnath said: “”I was looking for a studio flat for my family and saw an ad listing an apartment “on the Dubai border with free parking, studio in 25k, call 058-2335088”. When I called the number, the guy sent one of his ‘staff’, a ‘Mr Amir’ to show me the place. Amir asked me to pay Dh2,000 as booking fee, for which I got a cash receipt from a ‘Central Hills’ real estate company.
“After three days, I called the same number and another man who called himself ‘Shafiq’ answered. He asked to meet at Filli Café in Al Twar and pay Dh4,150 in cash and give a cheque for Dh4,166. I went with my wife and met him and signed a contract as well. After that, the mobile number was unreachable. I later learnt that this same man was arrested by the Sharjah Police.”
Another victim, Adil Ali Khan, said: “A man called me offering to a studio for rent in Skycourts Towers. The person I met, supposedly an apartment owner’s agent, showed me the unit, asked for Dh2,000 booking fees and Dh8,000 as three months’ rent, after which he gave me the keys and contract for the flat. This was my first time renting an apartment here and I did not know what a real contract looked like. Later, I found out the keys were fake as well. The door to the apartment had been left open when he showed it to me.
“Just like that, I lost Dh10,000 of my savings in a few minutes. I’m absolutely devastated and hope the police catch the people behind this fraud.”
A similar story happened to resident Kanwal Gulzar. “I found a few numbers on Dubizzle and called them and one agent offered to show me some flats. After he showed me a few with only window ACs, I asked for a flat with central air-conditioning. He claimed those were in high demand and that I had to book immediately if I wanted one. After showing me a 2bhk in the Sharjah Corniche area, we had a back-and-forth on the rent and booking amounts. I hadn’t made up mind and wanted to show my family the flat before deciding to rent.
“After they saw it, he kept insisting for the documents and a Dh1,000 booking fee, claiming that many people were vying for the same flat. Possession of the flat could be taken within a week’s time, he said and after I paid him, I called him two days later to check. He said he was negotiating with the landlord, who was out of town, on the rent amount. After three more days, his mobile was switched off. When I called the number on the receipt he’d given me, there was no real estate company in that name.”
How to avoid falling for such rental scams:
· For landlords and real estate managements – keep empty apartments secure and locked. Ask the building’s security personnel to keep an eye on it and hand over the key only on prior approval from the owner/management
· For prospective tenants – Avoid dealing with unofficial brokers or someone who claims to be a representative of the owner or real estate company
· Do not make advance payments for booking a unit
· Avoid paying cash and use only cheques which can be traced in case of fraud
· Always ask for a power of attorney if dealing with a company or owner’s representative
· Deal with only Rera-approved agents. For Dubai, all Rera licensed brokers and agents are listed here