Warning about vacation rental scams

Vacation planning often begins with enthusiasm, optimism and nowadays the internet.

And the internet is exactly where Kim Culbert turned to when she and a group of friends were looking for a place to rent in Whistler to take part in a breast cancer fundraiser known as “Muderalla.”

“I went to Craigslist and found this amazing three-bedroom townhouse,” said Culbert. Over the past few years, home rentals have become a popular alternative to hotels for would-be vacationers on the hunt for a good deal. But while websites like Craigslist can offer a good deal, they have also been making headlines for scams in recent years.

Although Culbert had heard Craigslist was “not great for renting things out” and was skeptical initially, her doubts dissipated once the supposed renter, who went by the name “Linda Wilson,” emailed an official website with more photos and information.

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“It seemed legitimate,” Culbert told Global News. ” They also sent out a reply email. Here’s a website with more information on it, here’s more pictures, here’s more information about our company, here’s other places we rent in the Lower Mainland. ”

Screenshot of scammer’s website advertising for a Whistler vacation rental.

The act of creating, what appeared to be a legitimate deal, didn’t end there.

“She sent me a contract. Everything there looks legitimate. There’s an address. I Google-mapped it. There’s the place that matches the pictures from the website.”

Culbert admits she felt seduced by the pictures and the facade of legitimacy. Once she was hooked, Wilson requested $700 up-front, which Culbert wired through an E-transfer. An E-transfer transaction cannot be reversed once the recipient of the funds has deposited the transfer.

Everything seemed just right until Culbert and her friends planned on going to the Whistler one day earlier than originally planned. Culbert tried to get in touch with Wilson but she ignored all her calls and emails.

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“So I got the website to get a local number and it’s gone. The website no longer exists. It’s been taken down,” said Culbert, “Now I am starting to freak out that I’ve just been scammed.”

Culbert contacted the Montebello townhouse complex front desk only to find out that the particular place she paid for was actually not for rent and that the owners were living in the United Kingdom. Culbert learned that “this has been happening a lot in the last couple of months.” A group of lawyers were allegedly duped over the summer.

Global News found a new Craigslist ad for the same place Culbert wanted to rent and contacted the rental agent who went by the name of Linda.

Through email contact, Linda requested $1050 upfront to make the booking.
“Our nightly rate is $300 and a $600 refundable damage deposit is required. To hold the property, you are required to pay 50% deposit of your total rental rate including the deposit and the remainder is due on your arrival. We accept payments through interac and bank to bank transfer. ”

When Global News asked to meet “Linda” to provide the cash, she rejected the idea claiming she takes no cash statements. Wilson provided a link to a website “” which contained a listing of rental properties in Kitsilano, Yaletown and Coal Harbour. All professional photos pulled from the web. Global News alerted Lodgify that a scammer was using their host website and it was quickly taken down.

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Screenshot of scammer’s website advertising for a Coal Harbour property for rent.

Finding the culprits behind these schemes, according to the RCMP, can be difficult as the crooks typically do not live near the jurisdiction of the reported crime.

“We do get reports every year of people who have been victims of rental frauds within Whislter,” said Sgt. Rob Knapton of Whislter RCMP.

“Anytime we are dealing with online offences like this it becomes challenging at times to get the information on who it is that’s involved. Often we are talking about people that are from other countries,” added Knapton.

Michelle Farina, owner of property Management Company Advent Real Estate services in Vancouver knows all too well how these scammers operate.

On a weekly basis, scammers steal her ads and repost them.

“In terms of rental scams it’s coming from Craigslist mostly,” said Farina, “It’s very scary. They take our ads, they take our photos, they advertise them as their own and collect application forms and security deposits from unsuspecting victims.”

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To avoid being a victim, Farina recommends using legitimate rental websites and avoiding wire transfers of money.

Culbert hopes her story will help prevent others from being scammed.

“It definitely took a hit on my heart,” said Culbert.

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