A young couple desperate to secure a rental property says they were scammed out of $800 that they believed they were paying for a bond on their new family home.
Kayla Steadman, 19, and Rhys Swan, 20, have spent the past four months unsuccessfully applying for dozens of properties across Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
Like many others, they have struggled to secure a rental in a market multiple property managers recently described as one of the most competitive they have seen.
Frustrated at constantly missing out on properties, Ms Steadman recently posted an advertisement online in the hope someone privately leasing a home would be willing to give them a go.
"We've been living in an over-crowded home on the lounge-room floor and we weren't getting anywhere with real estates so I ended up putting an ad up on Gumtree telling everyone our situation; how much we can afford, how many bedrooms we'd like et cetera," she said.
"This guy ended up messaging me and said he had a rental available. I ended up giving him my email and we communicated that way."
Ms Steadman said the man claimed to have a house available in Valentine, which he did not want to lease through an estate agent.
He provided photos of the house and a lease agreement, which all seemed legitimate.
"He ended up saying we'd got the house and we just had to give him a bit of our bond to secure the property," Ms Steadman said.
The man asked for $800 in cash or via bank transfer, which Ms Steadman provided through an ATM deposit.
"I assumed it wasn't a scam, but when it came to the day of him giving us the keys he never showed," she said. "He would have read my ad and seen we had two kids and we're struggling."
The man ceased all contact after the planned meeting and Ms Steadman reported the incident to police. She also searched the address online and called the most recent property manager.
"I got a phone call and advised her that the people she said she had spoken to weren't the owners of the property," a manager of the Charlestown real estate said.
"So it seemed as though she had been scammed.
"Unfortunately they've used our property, but there's nothing we could do."
Ms Steadman, who hopes sharing her story might prevent others from falling into the same trap, said the bank had indicated it would be able to retrieve the funds.
Despite the incident, the couple remain eager to find a home. Ms Steadman is planning on returning to work in the hospitality industry after a recent break. Mr Swan is a full-time carer for a relative.
Lake Macquarie police are investigating the incident.
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