Looking online for a rental? Beware of scammers offering bargains for homes not for rent

·4 min read
Rental scammers will ask prospective tenants for a deposit before they see the unit. (Niagara Regional Police Service - image credit)
Rental scammers will ask prospective tenants for a deposit before they see the unit. (Niagara Regional Police Service - image credit)

Rebecca Eldridge was on the hunt for a place in Fredericton this summer when she was offered an apartment that was literally too good to be true.

Eldridge, who was planning to move from St. George to Fredericton with her partner, posted on a Facebook group for home rentals in Fredericton, hoping that she would have luck there in finding a unit.

A Facebook user under the name "Kay Coleman" commented on the post, inviting Eldridge to message her. When Eldridge clicked on the profile, Coleman looked harmless.

"The picture was of this very sweet, elderly woman," she said.

Eldridge went ahead and messaged the woman, sharing her list of requirements. She was looking for a place that would be pet friendly, have ample storage room and include two parking spots. Her budget was $1,000 a month.

Coleman told her she was in luck.

"I did think it was a little bit odd at first because as soon as I listed everything out, she said 'Yup, I got that,'" said Eldridge.

Rebecca Eldridge
Rebecca Eldridge

There was one catch, though. Coleman told Edridge she wouldn't be able to show her the apartment because she was living in Utah with her daughter and was too sick to travel. Instead, she could send the keys in the mail to Eldridge after receiving a $500 deposit.

"I messaged back, and I just said I'm not comfortable sending money to someone I don't know," said Eldridge.

Eldridge asked for photos of the apartment and whether there was someone in Fredericton to show her the place. Coleman insisted there was no one in town who could do this, but she sent the address of the apartment as well as photos that showed a well-maintained unit.

"She got very defensive and said 'I don't know why you'd put an old lady through this," said Eldridge.

Eldridge later discovered that the photos were pulled from the apartment building's website.

After she refused to send the deposit, Coleman told Eldridge she'd take her business elsewhere. Coleman's Facebook account was later deleted.

Eldridge said the experience was a letdown.

"I didn't actually get scammed, but I was really frustrated because I was really looking forward to finding a place," she said.

To raise awareness, Eldridge posted in the Facebook group warning others to be cautious of scammers.

"The most important thing I learned is to know what the law is and what your rights are as a tenant and as someone who's going to rent. Don't just send any random person money."

Know how to spot a scammer

With many people today using Facebook rental groups and websites like Kijiji to find a home, scammers have taken advantage of the anonymity that comes with the internet.

New Brunswick began receiving complaints about rental scams a few years ago, said Alaina Nicolson, director of consumer affairs at the province's Financial and Consumer Services Commission.

"The majority of the complaints that we're hearing about relate to, someone has put a damage deposit down on a property and they go to move into the property, and they discover the property isn't actually for rent," she said.

Alaina Nicholson
Alaina Nicholson

Clifton Queale, a realtor in Fredericton, said that scammers have been targeting homes that are listed for sale.

"What ends up happening is we'll have a listing posted for sale, and an individual will post it as a rental," he said.

When realtors get word of a home for sale that's being advertised elsewhere as a rental, Queale said, they will notify the Fredericton Real Estate Board, who will in turn contact the police.

"We want to have the presentation that [the home] is for sale only," said Queale.

Nicholson said the commission has been trying to raise awareness about rental scammers by informing the public on what they should watch out for when looking for a home. The commission republished an article with tips on how to spot a scam last spring.

"If it sounds too good to be true, we're asking to follow your gut," she said.

Some red flags the commission warns about are pressure to act quickly, asking for a deposit without seeing the home, and asking prospective tenants to ignore For Sale signs at the home.

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