Earlier this year, a woman in Brantford, Ont. had several people come to her door to view her house, which they said they had arranged to rent. Problem was, the house wasn’t for rent and the homeowner knew nothing about it.
In the Ottawa area, landlords who rent to international students were contacted by people who said they wanted to pay a year’s worth of rent upfront, sending a cheque or money order. But soon after the tenant said their plans had changed and asked the landlords to refund all but two month’s worth of the money. The initial cheque bounced, and the landlords were out the funds “refunded”.
In June, CityNews in Toronto reported that more than two dozen people showed up at the same home in North York to move into a room. The man who was renting the home wasn’t the owner of the house. Most of the victims were international students and visitors, says CityNews, who found the home on Facebook or Kijiji and paid money up front for the room. The tv cameras were rolling when a student from Japan arrived and discovered someone was already living in the room he paid $1,200 to rent.
These are just some of the many rent-related scams that continue making the rounds across North America. Canada’s Competition Bureau says this is a particularly bad time of the year for fraudsters because it’s peak moving season as students start school.
The Vancouver Police Department says there are two common scams aimed at tenants. In the first, the scammer poses as the landlord but says they are out of the country, often calling themselves “a business person who travels abroad.” But the property they are advertising may be completely fake. The photo shown in the listing may have been lifted from a real estate advertising site or a rental site such as Airbnb. The scammer asks for a deposit through a money transfer and then disappears.
In the second type of scam, the fraudster has access to a property and shows it to the victims. They ask for an immediate deposit and give the victim a move-in date, promising to send the keys soon. But the keys never arrive, and the scammer can’t be found. Or, in some cases, the keys do arrive, but several people show up at the property, all believing they have rented it.
If you are looking for a place to rent, here are ways to protect yourself as recommended by the Competition Bureau, the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP:
* Recognize the red flags: If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. If they are asking for a cash deposit, or if they want the money to be wired someplace, don’t do it. If they want you to send money outside the country, be wary. They may promise you a “full refund” if you are not happy with the property, but that’s unlikely to happen.
If the person will only deal with you via email, it’s another red flag. If you have a contract, does the name on the emails match the name on the contract?
Some scammers direct would-be tenants to a website that asks you to fill out a form with personal or financial information. Don’t fall for pressure tactics, such as “several other people are interested so you must decide right now.”
* Research the property online. You can copy a photo of the listing and use Google Image Search to see if the same photo has been used to advertise other properties.
* Request a lease or rental contract and review it carefully. A landlord who doesn’t want a lease is unusual. Most landlords will ask you a lot of questions and demand letters of employment and a credit check to make sure you are going to be a good tenant. They will want to protect themselves from non-paying tenants and will demand a lease. If this doesn’t happen and they seem eager to rent to you without one, be suspicious.
* Insist on meeting the landlord or property manager in person and inspecting the property. If you are out of town, try to get a trusted friend to visit the address and ensure that it exists and is as advertised. Ask neighbours or other tenants about the owner and the property.
If you have been the victim of a scam, contact your local police department. If you have provided financial information to the scammers, alert Equifax and TransUnion to make sure it has not impacted your credit score. Contact your financial institution as well.
The bottom line is to use common sense and think it through before shelling out any money. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says: “Go with your gut. If it seems fishy, it probably is.”