ABU DHABI: A number of Abu Dhabi residents have been duped out of thousands of dirhams by a rental scam involving a ‘villa for rent’ ad on the online classifieds portal Dubizzle.
Up to 10 people – both bachelors and families – lost amounts ranging from Dh8,000 to Dh40,000 in an audacious real estate fraud in which scammers used stolen Emirates IDs, tampered tenancy contracts and fake names.
“I did not know it was a trap. Everything looked like a perfect real estate deal,” said S.M., an Indian who works for a government company.
He said even the ‘municipality-approved’ Tawtheeq contract given to him turned out to be phoney. “There was no way I could tell the stamps on the rental contract were fake and the information about the property tampered,” said S.M.
He fell victim to the scam when he responded to an ad for a partitioned villa on Dubizzle in December 2015. An Arabic-speaking man took the call and agreed to send an agent to show him the villa in the Khalidya area of Abu Dhabi.
“The real estate agent identified himself as Abdul Rahman and showed me around the villa. There were some maintenance activities going on and he said I could move in within 10 days,” said S.M.
“I agreed to pay an advance of Dh6,000 as cash cheque plus a Dh2,000 cash deposit to reserve my studio that cost Dh33,000 in annual rent. I was a bit worried as the agent insisted on payment by cash. Also, he did not have a company receipt book,” said S.M.
But the agent convinced S.M. by giving him a copy of his Emirates ID and also by making him speak on the phone with the purported owner of the villa.
“Shortly after I left, I got an SMS alert from my bank saying the cheque had been encashed. Two days later, when I called the agent and the owner in order to move in, their phones were switched off,” said S.M.
“I went back to the villa to enquire, but I found there more people who had been cheated similarly by the same fraudsters. There were no guards or watchmen. We didn’t know which door to knock on.”
Another victim who did not want to reveal her name, said she paid the full rent of Dh40,000 for one bedroom in the same villa.
“They convinced me to give them a cash cheque. As I was desperate to find an affordable one bedroom, I immediately made the payment to take the place,” said another victim.
The victims filed a joint petition with the police, and it was only during investigation that it came to light that the real estate agent had faked his identity by using a stolen Emirates ID.
“The Emirates ID belonged to a jail inmate. Even the tenancy contract they gave us was photoshopped,” said another victim.
The case is being heard in the Court of First Instance in Abu Dhabi.
YOUSPEAK: How can one avoid falling prey to such rental scams?