Jail for man who cheated 68 victims of $383k in one of S’pore’s worst rental scams
The man behind one of Singapore’s largest rental scams, who continued to scam people while out on bail, was sentenced to three years and seven months’ jail on Wednesday.
Gibson Zeng Xianfu, 29, swindled 68 victims from at least 12 countries, including Singapore, of over $380,000 in total.
Zeng, who is currently remanded, had earlier pleaded guilty to 23 counts of cheating, with 39 similar charges taken into consideration for sentencing.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Shiau Yin told the court previously that between 2018 and 2020, Zeng was a sales executive at Singapore Housing Company, which specialises in rentals. His job was to take photos of rental units and arrange for viewings with clients.
After leaving his job, Zeng uploaded some of these photos on the Airbnb platform despite not having the authority or ability to rent out those apartments.
He added a veneer of legitimacy by preparing bogus tenancy agreements for his victims, said DPP Wong.
On Jan 20, 2022, a group of three French nationals agreed to rent a unit for three months in Singapore that Zeng had advertised on Airbnb. They paid a deposit of $9,600 to Zeng.
However, on the agreed move-in date on Feb 5, Zeng told them that the unit was unavailable as the previous tenant had contracted Covid-19. He offered another move-in date, but became uncontactable thereafter.
Zeng was first arrested on Feb 10 and was released on bail the same day. But he continued to scam more people.
A Singaporean man contacted Zeng on May 11 and paid $7,000 the next day to rent a unit and signed a tenancy agreement. But on the agreed move-in date, the man went there and discovered that it was occupied.
Confused, he contacted the occupants’ agent and was told this was not the first time that people had shown up expecting to move in. The victim tried to contact Zeng without success.
He was arrested again on July 20, 2022, and charged in court the next day. He was placed in remand for a week before being released on bail.
While out on bail, he cheated six more victims between Aug 2 and 28 the same year.
Bail was revoked on Oct 5, and he has been in remand since.
DPP Wong said his victims included foreign students and locals who were waiting to move into their permanent homes.
The victims included people from South Africa, the United States, Portugal, Israel and Denmark.
DPP Wong said Zeng went to significant lengths to perpetrate the fraud and committed the offences out of pure greed, spending the money on himself.
She added: “The offences were committed at a time when competition for rental units in the market was high due to limited supply and high demand.
“The accused repeatedly put the victims off with Covid-19 as the dominant excuse. (This was) a move which was highly opportunistic and preyed on the fears of the victims given that Covid-19 remains a transmissible disease,” said the prosecutor.
Zeng has since made restitution of about $29,800.
For each charge of cheating and dishonestly inducing another person to deliver property, he could have been jailed for up to 10 years, fined or both.
The number of home rental scams via online platforms jumped fivefold in 2022 to 979 cases, from 192 cases in 2021.
The police said in March 2023 that at least 305 people had fallen victim to rental scams in the first three months of the year, losing at least $1.7 million in total.