SINGAPORE: In one of the biggest rental scams in the country’s history, a man cheated 68 victims from Singapore and other countries out of a total of S$383,000. After he pleaded guilty to 23 charges of cheating in June, Zeng Xianfu Gibson, 29, was given a jail sentence of three years and seven months on Wednesday (Oct 25). An additional 39 charges were also considered for Zeng’s sentencing.

Prosecutors had asked for 47 months (three years and eleven months) of jail time for the former rental sales executive, who continued to target people for his scams even when he was released on bail. He could have gone to jail for as much as ten years for every charge of cheating.

From 2018 to 2020, Zeng worked at Singapore Housing Company, making arrangements for prospective clients to see the rental spaces and taking pictures of these units. However, after leaving the company, he continued to use the photos, uploading them on the global rental website Airbnb, even when he had no authorization.

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Zeng scammed people from the US, France, South Africa, Germany, India, China, Portugal, Israel, Denmark, Switzerland, and Singapore when he posted listings on the site and entered into fake tenancy agreements. But when they tried to move into the units, he would say the current tenants had COVID-19 and offer refunds, which he only partially returned to some of his victims. Others received no refund at all. The people who had been scammed, a number of whom are international students, eventually had to spend more money on finding accommodation in Singapore.

The court heard that the victims lost between S$7,000 and S$16,635 that they deposited as part of the tenancy agreement based on the listings Zeng put up on Airbnb.

When they realized they had been cheated, the victims lodged police reports against Zeng, who was eventually arrested in February of last year. Nevertheless, the arrest did not stop Zeng, who continued these offences when he was out on bail. He was again arrested in July 2022 and had his bail revoked in October of that year. He has been in police custody since then.

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Only S$30,000 of the S$353,000 he scammed from his various victims has been returned by Zeng so far. “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,” CNA quotes the prosecutor on Zeng’s case as saying. /TISG

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