A victim of a string of rental frauds Victoria police have described as “sophisticated” and “brazen” is sharing her story in the hopes she can prevent others from falling into the same trap.
“We thought we were doing everything right. We’d heard about rental scams before, but never where people were actually shown the apartment in person multiple times,” the woman, whom Global News has agreed not to identify, said in an interview Thursday.
The victim and her partner, who recently moved to Victoria from Alberta for school, had been looking for a unit in the community since May, and found what looked like the dream suite on Craigslist.
They spoke to the scammer on phone, and even travelled to Victoria to meet him in person and view the property.
“He let us in using a key fob on the outside door, brought us upstairs, told us a lot about the building, discussed the utilities, he had this whole story about it, when he bought it, who he bought it with, all this stuff — let us right into the apartment, he had a key for the door to the apartment,” she said, adding the scammer even went as far as to check their references.
“The red flag I guess we did see in hindsight was that he requested we pay in cash for the damage deposit. But the place was very fairly priced, he was a very normal guy, nothing was particularly odd about him. We met with him multiple times. He let us into multiple buildings.
“You just wouldn’t think that is a scam, because of how elaborate it was, I guess.”
The couple only realized they’d been scammed the day they arrived to move into the apartment.
Again, the scammer met them in person outside the building to hand off the keys — and collect a $900 damage deposit and half a month’s rent from them.
He then told them his niece and nephew were being dropped off, and he’d be back in a few minutes — but never returned.
When the couple tried to use the key fob on the building it didn’t work. Neither did the mailbox key or key to the apartment door.
Realizing what had happened, the duo reported the incident to the police, and posted their tale on social media site Reddit — where numerous others said they’d been scammed the same way.
“Multiple people commented and private messaged us saying, ‘pieces of your story are exactly the same as what happened to me,'” she said.
Victoria police issued an appeal Wednesday for anyone who believed they’d been scammed by someone using the same pattern to come forward, citing at least 10 cases similar cases in the city, and the potential of more in neighbouring municipalities.
“The price seems a little too low for a really competitive rental market, you negotiate, this person contacts your references, gives you a key fob, and then you arrive and discover this is not the case,” Victoria Police spokesperson Bowen Osoko told Global News.
“It is quite possible the person has targeted people right across the region.”
Police have already made two arrests in the file, and released a photo of one of the suspects in the hopes of connecting with more victims.
In the meantime, would-be renters are being warned to take every precaution when locking down a deal.
“It probably is therefore a good idea to be extra vigilant,” tenant resource and advocacy centre lawyer Rob Patterson said.
“And that includes those initial steps like making sure you can see the place before you pay money, ensuring the person is the owner, and can also involve taking that extra step and actually looking up the property.”
It’s the kind of advice the victim who spoke with Global News said she’ll be employing any time she’s house hunting now — including using a Realtor as a third party in rental transactions, who can directly contact a property’s registered owner.
“This was a very elaborate thing that happened to a lot of other people, and I’m just hoping it doesn’t happen to any more people.”