Aussie tradie loses life savings in elaborate Booking.com rental scam

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A young tradie has issued a warning after being tricked into handing over his life savings, forcing him to move back in with his parents, in an elaborate rental scam.

The person behind the scam has been revealed to be Sydney strata manager Scott Jeffries labelled by a magistrate as “insidious”, but despite fleecing a total of $58,000 out of 20 victims, received no prison time in a ruling this week.

In May last year, Ethan Hanna, then 19, was renting in a share house but wanted to move into his own place and thought he had hit the jackpot when he saw an advertisement on Facebook for an apartment.

He inspected the two-bedroom property in South Wentworthville, in Sydney’s west, and was happy with what he saw, especially as it was only for $450 a week and was fully furnished.

“It was local to the station, I didn’t have a licence at the time. That’s why I wanted it,” Mr Hanna told news.com.au.

A woman showed him around the property and he asked for the application form.

He recalled: “I don’t think she said anything, she just handed it to me”.

Four days later Mr Hanna transferred $2900 over to secure the apartment, which was two weeks’ rent and the bond money.

But his bank immediately froze his account over concerns of fraudulent activity.

Unfortunately, by then it was too late and the money had already been transferred out.

When he looked up the address again, he could see the so-called rental was now available on Booking.com. The rental was advertised to him as “furnished” – but the real reason was because it was intended for short-term accommodation.

“I’m actually a little impressed by these people,” he said in regards to the elaborate nature of the fraud.

He had $2000 in savings and had to borrow the remaining $900 from his brother.

“It left me with no money so I had to move back in with my father,” he lamented.

Mr Hanna also provided them with his driver’s licence and birth certificate. He lodged a form with IDCare to try to protect himself against identity theft.

His father told news.com.au the ordeal had shattered his son’s confidence.

Court documents reveal that the woman who showed Mr Hanna around the apartment also had no idea she was part of a scam, and had been hired on Airtasker to hand out rental forms that night for $150.

NSW Police arrested Scott Jeffries, 35, in connection to the scam at the end of last year and he was sentenced to two and a half years on an intensive corrections order on Wednesday afternoon. That means if he follows strict rules he won’t see the inside of a prison cell.

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Mr Jeffries was charged with 34 offences including publish false misleading material to obtain advantage, dishonestly obtain financial advantage by deception, knowingly deal with proceeds of crime, deal with identity info to commit indictable offence, and possess identity info to commit etc indictable offence.

He pleaded guilty to 22 of them — 20 counts of dishonestly obtain financial advantage by deception and two counts of deal with property proceeds of a crime less than $100,000.

Police said the rental bond scam was played out from February 2022 until October last year, for premises at Liverpool, Wentworthville, Auburn, Parramatta and Bondi.

The total proceeds of the crime was $58,000.

Mr Jeffries was granted bail on November 17 and was sentenced at Parramatta local court on Wednesday to two years and six months of an intensive corrections order.

He will not go to prison as long as the orders are not breached and nor was he ordered to pay back any of the money to the victims.

The strata manager must not commit any other offence while he is under the ICO and he also must complete 300 hours of community service.

The court heard that most of the victims had been scammed out of around $3000 but the highest single amount was $6400.

Alcoholism and a gambling addiction were given as motivations for Mr Jeffries’ misconduct. He has since abstained from both, the court was told in the sentencing proceedings.

The magistrate, Cate Follent, called his behaviour “quite insidious” and “very exploitive”, especially in a housing crisis.

“The offending is aggravated by the fact there was a significant level of planning,” the magistrate also said.

According to agreed upon facts, Mr Jeffries sent $13,000 worth of the victims’ money to multiple cryptocurrency accounts.

“Your criminal record does contain a few dishonesty related matters but it is a limited record,” the magistrate added.

The court previously heard Mr Jeffries has in the past been convicted of offences relating to obtaining property by deception between 2015 and 2020.

Mr Jeffries’ defence lawyer Jayden Murdoch said he had contacted authorities asking the best way for his client to return the money.

“He wants to right his wrong,” Mr Murdoch said.

Despite this, Mr Hanna has had no word when or if the money will be returned to him.

alex.turner-cohen@news.com.au

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