Malaysian couple shell out $4,300
Japanese expat coughs up $6,000
Conman duped would-be tenants and agents by posing as property’s manager
A MALAYSIAN couple and a Japanese expatriate have fallen prey to a rental scam run by a conman who took $10,300 from them - then went into hiding.
Neither party realised they had paid him to lease the same terrace house in Serangoon Gardens.
But in a twist of fate, they ran into each another there - and discovered his scam.
The man who allegedly made off with their money - his full name is Axley Alexander Ryan Shah and he calls himself Ryan - had no legal link to the property. He pretended to be the property’s manager. It is not clear how he obtained the house keys.
The couple, who are permanent residents, and the Japanese woman have filed separate police reports. A police spokesman said on Monday that two reports of cheating are being investigated.
The property agency involved, ERA, said it is probing the case. Two of its agents were apparently duped by Ryan.
ERA Asia-Pacific associate director Eugene Lim said such scams surface occasionally and often involve a conman fraudulently renting out someone else’s home.
‘We train our agents to do due diligence to ascertain the property’s ownership,’ he said. ‘If they are dealing with a representative, they need to verify his identity and make sure he has the authority to
act on behalf of the owner.’
In this case, the agents believed Ryan when he said he was the property manager and when he signed off as property manager-cum-landlord - even though they had run an ownership search that showed he was not one of the owners.
The couple - Ms Elena Fernandez, 35, and her husband, who have lived in Singapore for two years - paid cash to lease the house last November after responding to an online advertisement by an ERA agent.
At the house, they were met by two ERA agents and Ryan, who had asked one of the agents for tenant referrals. He said he represented Sisedel, a firm that owns 11 properties in Singapore, including - he claimed - the house in question.
He asked for $2,500 a month but Ms Fernandez, a part-time announcer at Gold 90FM, bargained it down to $2,150.
She said: ‘We were a bit surprised as the house was in good condition even though it was old.
Other houses nearby were going for $2,400 or $2,500.’
Ryan signed off on the tenancy agreement representing Sisedel and collected a two-month deposit of $4,300 in cash - witnessed by the two agents.
Later, he gave them the key. At the house, they were shocked to find sealed boxes in a bedroom and leftover food in the fridge. Ryan did not turn up.
Then a cab pulled up and the Japanese woman, who declined to be named in this article, told them to their dismay that she had paid to rent the house from Feb 1.
The woman, who had recently arrived in Singapore, told The Straits Times: ‘After Christmas, Ryan SMSed me to tell me he could not rent out the house because his agent had found someone else.
He said he would refund the deposit, but after that, we could not contact him.’
She had paid him $6,000 - two months’ deposit and advance rent. She went to the house to try to find him.
Ms Fernandez still has the key to the house. She said Ryan had sent her an SMS before disappearing, to apologise, saying greed had got the better of him.
The agents have since found her another place and paid the deposit for it.
The owners of 19 Coniston Grove are listed as Madam Tham Shook Han and Mr Lam Kah Han, according to data from the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore. They could not be reached for comment.
A company search showed that Sisedel was set up in April last year. Its shareholders and directors are Axley Alexander Ryan Shah and Tan Soon Kiat.
There is no official data on rental scams. At the Consumers Association of Singapore, the number of cases it handles involving rental disputes, including ones that involve misleading claims or misrepresentation, has grown, rising to 231 last year, from 177 in 2007 and 123 in 2006, said executive director Seah Seng Choon.
Source : Straits Times - 16 Jan 2009