Danielle and Devlin Maras with their 5-week-old baby were victims of an elaborate rental property scam. Photo / Michael Cunningham
A Northland couple due to move into a rental together found out a week before that their supposed new home was not up for rent.
Devlin and Danielle Maras were relieved when they found a Facebook page for rentals that allow pets. They put a post up on the page explaining they had a cat and dog, and a few weeks later received a message from a woman who claimed to have their perfect home for rent.
They corresponded over several video calls, where she asked for references, credit checks, as well as a criminal check. It was weeks before the apparent property manager told them they had scored the property and instructed the couple to pay $3600 for bond and two weeks’ worth of rent.
“She came across as really genuine,” Danielle said, “we both broke down in disbelief that we’d finally found a home for our family.”
The pair were expecting their first baby together, and excitedly did drive-bys past their home. But it became evident that something was wrong as the woman began putting off official viewings, with excuses that she was unable to travel, and had Covid-19.
The couple remained unsuspecting, simply asking her to do what she could because their baby was due.
“It was all very diplomatic,” said Devlin, “but then she put off the moving date, and when she said this, there were just red flags popping up.”
Devlin took himself for a drive to the house that they were meant to move into, and was faced with a woman residing there who had no idea what he was talking about.
She told Devlin that he was the fourth person who had turned up at the property, wondering what was going on. The woman recalled that one family had even driven to her home with a moving truck from Auckland, only to find out they had been victims of the elaborate scam.
Devlin went straight to the police, who told him there was an investigation in place.
After taking his enquiries to the police, Devlin said an officer confirmed the woman who was behind the scan was known to the police, with an address in Tauranga.
“It baffles me why they don’t send somebody there,” he said, “and put a pause on her continuing to do this to other people.”
The couple has since cancelled their driver’s licences so their details couldn’t be used to create false documents and obtain credit cards, and they’ve been red-flagged when applying for properties due to their expired licences.
Their baby is now 5 weeks old, and Devlin said he is missing out on key bonding time with his first child.
The couple is now living separately as they try to work out solutions. Being led on by the fraudster has taken an emotional toll on the pair.
“It’s devastating,” Danielle, “my 15-year-old son was supposed to come and move in with us, it’s just heartbreaking.”
“We both feel like we’re responsible,” agreed Devlin.
He’s spent the last few months pushing enquiries, to no avail. The woman’s social media is active, and it appears she is dining in five-star restaurants and staying in hotels.
He’s worried there’s “no consequence” for scams of this nature and wonders why no arrests have been made.
“You’re facilitating these people and giving them a window of time,” he said, “it’s no difference to these kids ram raiding, there are no consequences.”
He said it feels as though there are no repercussions, and he and his partner have been made to feel as though they “don’t exist”.
“She’s the winner,” he said, “no action, no punishment and the only loser is me and my family and nobody has the decency to even talk to me about what or if anything will be done.”
Ryan Weir, director of Propertyscouts, provided the Advocate with advice for people to look out for when it comes to property scams.
His advice included being wary of low rental prices that seem too good to be true, always inspecting the property in person before sending money and being wary of a sense of urgency from scammers.
“Ensure that the name of the landlord mentioned in the tenancy agreement matches the title of the property by conducting an online search of the title, which may require a nominal fee.”
He also suggested doing background research on the individual, their company and their address.
“If the listing is on Trade Me, check the Trade Me account: Property managers should have a commercial profile on Trade Me, rather than an individual profile. If the rental listing is on a personal profile, this is a red flag that the listing may be a scam.
“By taking these precautions, you can reduce your chances of being scammed by someone posing as a property manager or landlord,” he said, “trust your instincts: If something feels off, it probably is.”
A spokesperson from the police told the Advocate that investigations on the scam that Devlin and Danielle were victims of are ongoing, however, was unable to comment on the matter.
“Police sympathise with anyone who has been targeted by these types of opportunistic offenders,” the spokesperson said. “We would caution anyone who is being asked to pay a deposit or bond for a rental property in Whangārei to confirm it is a legitimate property available for rent before signing any contract or making a payment.”
Have you been a victim of the same scam? Contact email@example.com.