How to avoid getting scammed when renting a room

By Kevin Eichenberger

Scammers are targeting the most hard-pressed among us with rental listings rapid-fired onto multiple property platforms, legitimate-looking tenancy agreements, and shady tactics to avoid detection.

An artist's impression of the stereotypical scammer.

The usual choice of target is perhaps the most telling characteristic of the rental scammer mindset – they rely on people searching for rooms to rent while in the midst of a career, with the pressure to secure a home likely outweighing any suspicions that may have gathered in the rational mind. To help you avoid any losses due to scammers posing as legitimate real estate agents, we’ve drafted the following list of considerations to keep in mind when searching for a room to rent.


Identify fake online listings

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Be on the lookout for user accounts with a high number of similar online listings, especially if the listings share the same image and the titles are differentiated by as little as a single letter. A high number of similarly repeated listings is easier for a scammer to duplicate and the scam is more economically perpetrated when only minimal manual effort is required.


Get a business card

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While these particular scammers may display the mannerisms of a card-carrying member of a real estate association in person, they most certainly would be unable to produce a Real Estate Negotiator (REN) tag or member’s card issued by the Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents (MIEA) if asked. Legitimate real estate agents rely on their visibility and don’t usually leave the office without carrying their REN tag or some business cards. Insist on being given a business card when meeting an agent for the first time – this will enable you to verify multiple points of information.


Verify the agent’s identity

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One can reasonably expect that the names of the agent and their agency will be printed on a business card – but the most useful pieces of information, the agent’s and the agency’s registration numbers, should also be present. With these registration numbers, you could verify that the agent and the agency actually exist by going to lppeh.gov.my and performing a search using the company registration number and REN number printed on their business cards. You can be assured of a legal recourse to help you recover any losses incurred from a false tenancy agreement if both the agency and agent are registered.


Verify the property’s ownership

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In the case of apartments, condominiums, or other similar developments with strata titles or management offices attached, you can determine if a property is owned by the same person mentioned as the landlord in a tenancy agreement by approaching the office responsible for managing the development. Every tenancy agreement is drawn up to include the name of the property owner, so you can be certain of the transaction’s legitimacy if you’re seeing a match between what the management office tells you and what is printed in the agreement.


Make payments by post-dated cheque

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Do not make cash payments – or direct bank transfers – as these transactions cannot be cancelled or refunded in most circumstances. Refrain from doing online payment to anyone else’s account until provided with a tenancy agreement. Once the tenancy agreement is provided, it is best to make payment via a post-dated cheque. The action of providing a cheque for a future date satisfies legitimate requests for payment, enables your bank to oversee the transaction, and ensures that you have enough time to cancel the payment should your tenancy turn out to be a scam.

Use the time between the signing and the date of the cheque to determine the authenticity of the property ownership and cancel the cheque should you find the situation to be suspicious. If indeed the ownership proves true, call the owner and offer to pay in cash to replace the cheque.


Read about a similar scam involving the purchase of properties that never existed.

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