A Vancouver grandmother is on a mission this school year: to keep unsuspecting students from falling prey to online rental scams.
After she was targeted by scammers following a search for rental units in the city, she heard an increasing number of stories where young people were the targets of bogus online ads that defrauded them out of hundreds of dollars.
“They’re desperate enough to fall for a scam and it just makes me ill,” Kate said.
So, the 70-year-old grandmother took matters into her own hands.
This summer, she began posting detailed ads on Craigslist, highlighting all the red flags young renters should be looking for.
“I’m in Tennessee, I’m Canadian, I’m here doing the Lord’s work and I think ‘who falls for this’, but people do,” she said, describing an ad she recently saw.
Since putting up the posts, Kate said the fraudsters behind the ads have come after her as well.
“I just see students as innocent people…and what’s the first thing that happens when they hit Vancouver? Some jerk steals their money because they didn’t know any better. My blood’s boiling right now,” Kate said.
This week, Better Business Bureau issued a new warning ahead of the start of the school year, warning students of similar ads.
The concern is that their desperation – Vancouver currently has a 0.6 per cent vacancy rate – is making them even more vulnerable. What’s more, the Better Business Bureau’s Evan Kelly said these young renters might be looking at this tight rental market through rose-coloured glasses.
“Optimism bias is what it’s called. They basically have an attitude of ‘well this scam couldn’t possibly affect me. I’m tech savvy. I know computers and I know my way around the internet. How that could even possibly happen to me’, but it is,” Kelly said.
The Better Business Bureau suggests the following tips to avoid scams while heading back to school:
- Roommate/Rental scheme – If you post an ad for a roommate on Craigslist, beware of “fake roommates” who are out of the country, but can provide the rent upfront in the form of a money order. When you receive it, the amount is higher than the amount requested. You are asked to cash it and wire back the rest.
- Employment – Beware of ads that pop up near campus offering jobs with “no experience necessary.” Often, these “opportunities” are bogus. They could be another cheque cashing scheme. If you are interviewed at all or in a hotel lobby and have to pay for everything, including training, travel, lodging, food, etc. associated with the job, forget it! Check out a company first at bbb.org. If you didn’t get an interview…you didn’t get a job.
- Online Shopping Deals – You see a much-wanted item for a steep discount online. One you could not usually afford. The catch? The site asks you to wire payment to them instead of using a credit card – a huge red flag. Once the money is sent, the item is never received.
- Cheating Supplies – Students can find term papers and test questions and answers, but universities are increasingly using new software like Turnitin, fake websites, and spy cameras to track down dishonest students. Don’t cheat yourself out of learning.
- Illegal Downloads – It may be tempting to save money by downloading free music, movies, or textbooks, but many contain spyware that can end up causing financial havoc.