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HomesingaporeMan behind one of Singapore's largest rental scams, with S$383,000 cheated from...

Man behind one of Singapore's largest rental scams, with S$383,000 cheated from 68 victims, jailed

SINGAPORE: A former sales executive at a rental company misused the photos he took of units for his job in order to scam 68 victims of almost S$383,000 (US$280,000) in one of the largest rental scams in Singapore.

Zeng Xianfu Gibson, 29, was sentenced to three years and seven months’ jail on Wednesday (Oct 25) for his crimes.

He had pleaded guilty to 23 charges of cheating, with another 39 charges taken into consideration.

The court heard that Zeng was employed as a sales executive at Singapore Housing Company, which specialised in rental of units in Singapore, between 2018 and 2020.

As part of his job, he took photos of units for rental and arranged for viewings with clients.

After Zeng stopped working for the company, he used the photos he had taken on the Airbnb platform, although he had no authority or ability to rent out the advertised units.

He would provide actual images of units to bolster the authenticity of the listings, which he put up to scam others for money, and prepared bogus tenancy agreements for the victims.

Zeng’s victims came from different countries, including the US, France, South Africa, Germany, India, China, Portugal, Israel, Denmark, Switzerland and Singapore.

Court documents listed the details of how these victims were scammed of between S$7,000 and S$16,635 in “deposits” after responding to Zeng’s Airbnb listings in 2022.

Several of the victims were international students, while others were locals looking for short-term accommodation. 

One victim from Israel had arranged for Zeng to pick her up at Changi Airport. But he did not show up or give her a place to rent, or any refund when she arrived.

When the time came for most of the victims to move in to their units, Zeng would make excuses by telling them that the outgoing tenant had contracted COVID-19.

One victim booked a hotel stay as a result.

Multiple police reports were made against Zeng, and he was first arrested in February 2022.

However, after being released on station bail that same day, he continued to scam others. He was arrested again five months later and charged in court, but continued to reoffend after being released on court bail.

His bail was finally revoked in October 2022 and he has been remanded since.

He has made partial restitution of about S$30,000, with the remaining S$353,000 unaccounted for.

The prosecutor sought at least 47 months’ jail for Zeng, noting the substantial sum he had cheated and the inconvenience and anxiety caused to the victims.

“It bears highlighting that the offences were committed at a time where competition for rental units in the market was high due to limited supply and high demand,” said the prosecutor.

“Many of the accused’s victims were foreigners and locals who were looking for a roof over their heads for various reasons, including foreign students who were here for studies and locals who were waiting to move into their permanent homes.”

He said Zeng’s use of COVID-19 to put off the victims was a move that was “highly opportunistic”, preying on their fears and leaving them in a state of uncertainty and flux.

The prosecutor cited Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Home Affairs, who said in Parliament in May that there was an increase in home rental scams facilitated by online platforms, from 192 cases in 2021 to 979 in 2022.

The prosecutor also cited a police release in March 2023 which stated that at least 305 people had fallen victim in early 2023 to rental scams, losing at least S$1.7 million in total.

For each charge of cheating, Zeng could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

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