Scammers are relying on the generous nature of WA's farming community by pretending they have lost everything in recent bushfires and asking to stay rent-free in empty farmhouses.
A spokeswoman for industry leader WA Farmers said the scam was active around recent bushfire-affected areas, particularly in South Bunbury.
"Farmers are being targeted by unscrupulous people pretending to have lost everything in the Waroona-Harvey fires and asking if they can stay in empty farmhouses," she said.
"Farmers are then finding out that their new 'tenants' are not, in fact, homeless but are in search of free accommodation."
In these situations, "squatters rights" might come into play – meaning the tenants might not be able to be forcibly removed from the property and utilities could not be disconnected in an effort to make them move on.
The spokeswoman said this kind of situation could result in lengthy legal fights.
"We know there are genuine fire victims seeking accommodation, but we advise members to be aware and vigilant when it comes to helping suspected homeless victims," she said.
WA Farmers offered some simple guidelines for protection:
- Verify people have really lost their home by calling police and confirming if they were residents of Yarloop
- Present them with a tenancy agreement which is downloadable here from the Department of Commerce
- Request a bond equal to four weeks rent. Most people will still have a job and be earning a wage - even if they have lost their home.