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Monday Dec 01, 2014

Be careful when renting 'long-distance'

It has become common to rent a holiday home by going online or contacting the landlord by phone, but renting property "long distance" is an opportunity for con-artists to operate scams that leave holidaymakers out of pocket and without accommodation.

If you are renting through a property portal (or website), it is common that the property will be rented unseen and without meeting the estate agent or landlord face-to-face. This is the most high-risk scenario, so authenticating the credibility of the landlord or estate agent is important, Michelle Dickens, the managing director of credit bureau TPN, says.

Dickens has the following advice if you intend to rent a holiday home in another part of the country:

  • Use Google Earth to check that the property corresponds with the photographs on a website.

  • Ask the landlord or estate agent to send you additional pictures of the property that were not in the original advert.

  • Do a Google search on the name of the landlord or estate agent to check if there are any reports linking them to scams.

  • If you are dealing with an estate agent, check that he or she is registered with the Estate Agency Affairs Board. Go to www.eeab.org.za and use the search function to find out if the agent has a valid fidelity fund certificate for the current year.

  • Do a search on the estate agency's website to check that the agent is, in fact, active in the area where the property is located.

  • You should be wary if someone says they are an estate agent but provides only a cellphone number and no office telephone number, or if he or she communicates via a web-based email address and not a business email address.

  • Be wary of someone who communicates with you only via email and does not provide a cellphone or telephone number.

  • If a property really seems to be high-risk, do a deed search by going to the website www.deeds.gov.za. However, you have to register on the website and pay a fee to do the search.

  • Some of the banks will verify that an account number belongs to the name of the accountholder. If possible, do not transfer money into the account of someone you do not know before asking the bank to check that it is a legitimate account.

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