People desperate to find somewhere to live in Orange have lost up to $2400 each after falling victim to rental scams.
With vacancy rates for rental properties down to just one per cent, scammers are targeting people with fake offers, then tricking them into handing over up to six weeks rent in advance before they even see the property supposedly available.
One estate agency said they were aware of at least three people caught by scammers last week in Orange.
It is part of a wider scam that has seen about 560 people cheated out of more than $300,000 nationally this year with many cases in NSW.
Try to view a property in person before paying any bond or rent money.Delia Rickard, ACCC
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Scamwatch team has revealed rental scams are up 56 per cent this year compared to last year.
McCormack Barber Real Estate property manager Erin Marr said last week one of the agency's rental properties in Pearl Court in Orange was posted by a scammer on the Facebook Marketplace.
"Scammers took photos of our advertisement online," she said.
Mrs Marr said other scammers asked for personal documents including driver's licences and bank statements which people handed over, putting them at risk of identity fraud and other scams.
She said scammers were also answering people's requests on social media for a rental property.
Mrs Marr said people looking for rentals had told staff they had been contacted by the 'owner' of a rental property managed by the real estate agency who was offering it to them directly.
"A lot of the times a prospective tenant will approach us," Mrs Marr said.
She said they then had to tell the person it was likely they were being scammed.
Mrs Marr said it was likely rent scammers would target areas with rental shortages including Orange.
She said there were normally about 140 properties available for rent in Orange with vacancy rates of about 3-5 per cent. However, now there are barely 40 properties available.
Two weeks ago there were just 21 and the vacancy rate fell to 0.2 per cent.
She said it was largely due to increased demand for rentals from people moving to Orange for work.
ACCC deputy commissioner Delia Rickard said people aged 25-34 had reported most rental scams.
"Try to view a property in person before paying any bond or rent money to landlords or real estate agents," she said.
"Scammers often rely on email communications to avoid identification, do an independent search for a phone number and speak to the property manager over the phone or arrange a meeting in person. Before making any payments ensure you are dealing with the licensed agent."
She said people who were scammed should contact their bank quickly to try to stop the payment.
NSW Police provide a online warning to people about avoiding scams.
That includes advice about protecting your personal information, being wary of cold calls and warning to never send money, bank account details or information to someone you don't know or trust.
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