Rental Scams in Singapore and How to Avoid Them: 5 Renters Share Their Top Tips

Cheryl Chiew
Rental Scams in Singapore and How to Avoid Them: 5 Renters Share Their Top Tips
Rental scams in Singapore were spotlighted during the pandemic. The number of rental scam cases increased from 192 in 2021 to 979 in 2022. Between July and November 2023, at least 287 people fell for rental scams involving fake property agents, losing at least $1.8 million.
If you’ve ever rented in Singapore, you know how hard it is to navigate the Singapore rental market. And wherever much money moves between hands, scammers lie in wait. To help you avoid these con artists, we asked several individuals who have encountered or been the unfortunate victims of rental scams for their advice.

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*Answers were edited for clarity and brevity only; some names were withheld to protect the identity of interviewees/agents who have been impersonated.

What to Rent in Singapore (Video)

If you’re new to renting in Singapore and are unsure of your options, watch our video on the difference between living in a room rental vs co-living space vs a studio apartment. Now, on to the article!

How Rental Scams Work in Singapore

When Bern, 32, a Singaporean, was looking for a rental unit in the first half of 2023, she joined multiple Facebook groups about renting a property in Singapore. In those groups, conversations around available rental listings would take place. Additionally, owners seeking to lease their properties would post pictures of their units.
But in between the innocuous chats about finding rental properties and actual listings, scammers were lurking.
“It’s quite insidious. What happens is that these scammers would impersonate property agents and post fake listings on these online platforms. There would be pictures and videos of these units so that it would look legit. However, a big telltale sign they are fake listings is that the listing’s pricing seems too good to be true, especially in this current rental market.
The scammers would then inform you that you must pay a deposit or cash to view the unit. After that, they will ‘ghost’ you, and that’s when you know you’ve been scammed. But luckily, in these chats, tons of people flag out these scammers, so we’re looking out for each other, in a way.”
Across various rental Facebook groups, scammers are lurking. Source: Facebook

Property Agent Got Scammed by Individuals Impersonating Real Agents

But even when good samaritans alert others of a potential scam, you may see the warning too late.
When Chris*, 27, was househunting in August 2022, he fell prey to a rental scam. The advertising professional and his then-flatmate, Tim*, 28, were looking for a whole unit or a co-living situation as their landlord intended to sell their condo unit. Katie*, their current co-living agent and Tim’s acquaintance, approached them and offered her help.
Katie sent them listings in their WhatsApp group chat. On 22 August 2022, she sent the duo pictures of a 2-bedroom condo near Holland Village MRT station. The listing was priced at $2,500 per month, which is considered a steal.
“Katie called my friend and urged us to settle the deposit for this place. She said the market is ‘hot’ and the place is at a very good price. My friend and I decided as we liked how the place looked from the pictures.
Katie served as our middleman and communicated with the ‘landlord’s agent’. We signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) and deposited $2,500 into a bank account which supposedly belonged to the landlord. The ‘agent’ then set up a time for us to view the property in person.
However, the evening before we headed to the unit, Katie saw a Facebook post warning about the ‘agent’ we were talking to. The scammer was impersonating a real property agent and posting fake listings. It was then she realised we got scammed.
Katie helped us make a police report, but we didn’t get our money back. Out of goodwill (probably because she felt bad), she compensated a portion of what we lost through the scam.”

From Fake Documents to False Whatsapp Telephone Numbers: Almost Getting Scammed Twice

Dismayed, Chris continued his househunting journey, and Katie continued finding units for them. Throughout the three months, he encountered many fake listings on social media sites.
“As the saying goes, ‘Once bitten, twice shy’; now we were super careful when browsing listings. Before we did anything, we looked up CEA’s website to ensure the representing agent was legitimate and even got them to send us documentary proof of flat ownership. But guess what? We almost got scammed again!
Like in the previous encounter, the scammer was impersonating a real agent and pressuring us to send a deposit. When we confronted the scammer via phone, they had the cheek to tell us that they were using two telephone numbers – the actual, registered number on the CEA website was their ‘personal’ number, and the other number was for advertising property listings.
The worst part? When Katie called the registered number, the real agent who was being impersonated picked up. And he was clueless about this whole rental deal.”
After a “harrowing househunting experience", Chris currently rents a single room with a live-in landlord. He found the listing on PropertyGuru.
He advises those looking for a place to rent to go through trusted property sites. “It’s harder to determine the validity of listings posted on social media sites. It’s probably too good to be true when the place is much cheaper than the current market rate.
Finally, don’t trust anyone but yourself. Verify all information before making the deposit. Scammers can easily shadow real property agents’ phone numbers by simply adding +65 in front via number spoofing, so be careful!”

Narrowly Avoided a Rental Scam By Practicing Safety Tips

Chloe, 30, another local currently renting a condominium unit in Eunos with three other flatmates, almost fell for a rental scam, too. Like Chris’ and Tim’s encounter, she saw a “very attractive unit priced under the market rate for the area and situated in an excellent location”.
“The first red flag was when I contacted the agent to request a viewing and was told I couldn’t view the property. The reason given was that the current tenant was still occupying the place. That’s weird because you should be able to go for viewings even if the unit is tenanted. Usually, the existing tenants must be informed that the landlord/representing agent requests access to the home and then allows others to enter the unit.
The second red flag was when the agent asked my flatmates and me to put down a deposit first. He then said we could view the unit after the tenant moved out. And then, if we didn’t like the place, he would refund us the deposit. But that’s usually not the case!
I found it strange, but the agent representing the property assured me the unit was legitimate. He even sent over all his registered profiles; the information was checked out on the CEA Public Register. However, the agent’s online profile showed that he specialised in condos in a totally different region from the listing we were interested in.
Desperate to secure a lease, I signed the LOI, gave him scans of my IC, and mentioned that I would transfer the deposit later that night.
But that’s when the third and biggest red flag came. He called multiple times over the next few hours to rush me for payment. He did this even though he had not yet passed me the landlord’s bank account details. Even if you have signed an LOI, you should also have the Tenancy Agreement signed before transferring the deposit directly to the landlord. No money should pass through the agent!
I began to grow increasingly suspicious, and I asked him more questions. He responded angrily and unprofessionally, telling me just to forfeit the listing. The property agent even mistook me for another potential renter and asked me to sign documents I had already signed!
That evening, my flatmate went to the listed apartment. The exterior gate didn’t look like anything listed in the pictures. A confused-looking woman who didn’t speak English also came to the door. My flatmate couldn’t communicate with her so she left.
The same afternoon, I contacted a friend about my situation. She told me of a friend who fell for a rental scam, similar to what happened to me.
So, I took it as a sign from the universe, told the would-be scammer I was no longer interested, and thanked him for his time. My chat history with this person immediately disappeared on WhatsApp.”

Expat Renter Paid a ‘Viewing Fee’ and Got Ghosted

*This story was taken from a public post on a Facebook group.
It’s not just locals who are falling prey to scams. Foreigners who have lived in the city and are experienced renters are equally susceptible. When Adam* was looking for a place to rent in March 2022, he fell victim to a rental scam.
“For most of us renters, we are desperate to secure a unit at a time when rental prices are at an all-time high. The Singapore rental market is very brutal now. That was how I was conned by two so-called ‘agents’ after contacting them via their Carousell listing.
They informed me that the property I was looking at was in high demand and promised me an earlier viewing slot if I could pay the owner a ‘blocking fee’ of $500. After checking these agents’ profiles on their respective company websites, I paid them the amount as they provided receipts. They promised me an immediate refund if I didn’t like the property.
On the day of the viewing, I visited the place only to find out the properties were unavailable for rent. When I contacted them for a refund, the ‘agents’ stopped answering my calls. I lodged a police complaint but was told this was the most common rental scam where these conmen impersonated legitimate agents, using their real license numbers and email IDs but messaging potential victims with fake Whatsapp numbers.
Do not pay a deposit for viewing. For people trying to rent while overseas, please have some friends verify the unit before paying any deposit. Do not only trust videos/pictures.”

Preventing Rental Scams in Singapore

Due to how current rental scams are orchestrated, it can be difficult to differentiate between genuine and fake listings. Anyone can fall prey to these fraudulent schemes.
In many cases, the victims may not even realise they have fallen prey to a scam until the money has been lost. And even if you do make a police report, there is no guarantee you can recover the lost amounts. In summary, here’s what to look out for
  • Use reliable property listing sites like PropertyGuru rather than social media platforms to hunt for a rental unit
  • Insisting on attending a viewing before putting down any kind of deposit to ensure the property exists
  • Do your due diligence on the representing agent by checking them up on the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) website
  • Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into making a decision or putting down a deposit before you are ready
  • If a rental price is too good to be true, it’s likely to be untrue
  • Be on high alert because even if you do everything right, you may still get scammed
With these tips, do keep safe on your renting journey!
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Disclaimer: The information is provided for general information only. PropertyGuru Pte Ltd makes no representations or warranties in relation to the information, including but not limited to any representation or warranty as to the fitness for any particular purpose of the information to the fullest extent permitted by law. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided in this article is accurate, reliable, and complete as of the time of writing, the information provided in this article should not be relied upon to make any financial, investment, real estate or legal decisions. Additionally, the information should not substitute advice from a trained professional who can take into account your personal facts and circumstances, and we accept no liability if you use the information to form decisions.

More FAQs About Rental Scams

You can go to the police. If you suspect the listing you are viewing is a scam, you can call the Anti-Scam Helpline at 1800-722-6688.

Online rental scams occur when a property listing online is a false offer.

One tip to prevent rental scams is to physically view the listing. If you cannot, ask someone you know to do so on your behalf. You do not have to pay for a viewing. In any case, do not transfer any money to the agent directly.