Fake estate agents fraud rampant
The growth of urbanisation has led to an increase in unscrupulous businessmen masquerading as estate agents.
They are defrauding people looking for houses especially in the country’s major cities.
Malawi News can reveal that these unscrupulous agents demand money ranging from K3, 000 to K7, 000 for house viewing and an extra K25, 000 or half of a months’ rentals after occupation. The viewing amount is non-refundable.
The client is also asked to pay for transport to and from the designated location.
In circumstances where clients assign an agent to look for a house, the client is supposed to provide the agent with airtime and transport money.
The social media has been awash with complaints of estate agents’ fraudulent deals.
“I have paid K5, 000 to three different estate agents just to view houses which later didn’t even meet my standards,” lamented one Blantyre resident.
This is happening at a time the state owned Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) was failing to provide affordable houses to the public as it has 140,000 people on the waiting list against its 6,000 houses.
Malawi News investigations further revealed that some of these fraudulent agents give contacts of fake landlords who demand for advance rentals only to disappear after payment.
The dubious agents are using newspapers, social media and trees to advertise for the houses and most of the times they advertise nonexistent houses just to hoodwink customers.
They do not have offices but mostly found at designated places such as townships and in the middle of the central business districts.
The dubious agents are always on the hunt for vacant and newly constructed houses.
Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) executive director, Charlotte Wezi Malonda, warned the unscrupulous agents against defrauding potential customers.
“Some estate agents’ practices are criminal in nature and we urge members of the public to report them to relevant authorities including the police for action,” she said.
Malonda added: “Real estate is a crucial area of trade which has an impact on consumer welfare. We had a business clinic with over 70 estate agents last January. They were sensitised on the provisions of the CFTC Act and the Consumer Protection Act, which cover some of the malpractices rampant in that industry.”
She said her organisation has received complaints on the fraudulent deals with some traders, including estate agents, quoting their prices in foreign currency.
The organisation has, however, not instituted any investigations due to insufficient information, Malonda said, appealing to the public to report any unfair trading practices to CFTC for action.
Real Estate Agents Association of Malawi Trustee, Allen Justice, said her organisation has received such complaints but failed to act because the fraudulent agents are not registered.
She said the association discourages its members from charging viewing fees and other unjustified charges because the agents get their payments from houses or plots owners.
“Those involved in this fraud are not registered estate agents but rather briefcase agents who just want to dupe people around,” she said.
Justice revealed that the association deregistered two agents on similar allegations in 2015, adding that there were only 50 registered estate agents.
She, however, blamed the public for creating conducive environment for the fraudsters.
“The public should desist from dealing with agents they just see on social media or tree sign posts. They should deal with agents that are well established. Registered agents have offices and are easy to trace,” she said.
Blantyre Police Public Relations Officer, Elizabeth Divala, said her office has never received such complaints.
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