Jori Livingston isn't exactly where she expected she'd be this September.
She started her career as a paramedic on P.E.I. earlier this year and was getting ready to settle into her brand-new apartment in Charlottetown last month.
"I was really excited for the apartment. It was a really nice spot, especially just for like a one-bedroom. It had lots of space," Livingston said.
Instead, Livingston is living with her parents in Murray River after finding out the apartment she thought she'd rented was actually a scam.
"I never would have imagined [that] what was about to happen was about to happen."
Livingston found an ad for the Charlottetown apartment online on Kijiji and started texting with the person who posted the ad about setting up a viewing.
Paid $2.3K up front
She met him at the unit on Aug. 15 and he told her he was the property manager and also living at the apartment. He showed her around and she said it was the perfect fit for her. She signed a lease with the proposed owner right away and also paid a damage deposit and first month's rent to secure the place — a total of $2,300.
Livingston said her plan was to take over the unit on Aug. 28, but as that date approached, the man with whom she had dealt seemingly disappeared.
"He stopped responding completely," she said. "I called the numbers that were on the lease… and it just said, 'That phone [number] is not available.'"
He stopped responding completely. I called the numbers that were on the lease… and it just said, 'That phone [number] is not available.' — Jori Livingston
Livingston went back to the apartment and started knocking on doors, hoping another tenant could help her get in touch with the landlord. That's when she discovered the unit wasn't a long-term rental and didn't belong to the person with whom she signed a lease.
It was a short-term rental. The man who had said he owned it was just staying there for the night.
"He rented an Airbnb and showed a bunch of people the spot for one evening. He just rented it for one evening, had a bunch of people in, got a bunch of people to sign a lease, send some money," Livingston said.
"People are pretty desperate right now for housing and for rentals… It's pretty evil to try to benefit off that."
Police investigating multiple cases
CBC News spoke to the registered owner of the unit Livingston thought she had rented, who confirmed it is listed on Airbnb and was occupied as a short-term rental the night she went to view it.
RCMP Cpl. Gavin Moore says it's good practice to pay attention to details about the person they’re meeting and their vehicle that can be given to police to help identify them if a scam takes place. (Mary-Helen McLeese/CBC)
Charlottetown police also confirmed they are investigating five different reports of rental fraud at that location. In a statement, Deputy Chief Sean Coombs said there are three similar investigations being done by the RCMP in Stratford and two others in the Moncton area.
All the incidents happened last month and Coombs said there is a person of interest who appears to be related to all the reports being investigated. No charges have been laid.
Online rental scams not uncommon
Cpl. Gavin Moore with the P.E.I. RCMP said that while online rental scams are not uncommon across the province, these ones are unique because potential tenants are actually meeting with proposed landlords in person and viewing the units.
He said there are a few steps people can take to protect themselves in this type of situation.
"You can always do a quick search online, and if this is an online scam, there will often be something connected to that address," Moore said.
"If you're going to the apartment yourself, it's always good practice to speak with other tenants in the building… to learn about their experience with the landlord."
Jori Livingston is back to looking for apartments in her spare time. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)
Moore said he also recommends people pay attention to details about the person they're meeting and their vehicle that can be given to police to help identify them if a scam takes place. Keeping good records of any messages, emails or lease agreements that can be provided to police is also helpful, he said.
Removed from Airbnb platform
A spokesperson with Airbnb sent CBC News a statement that said issues like this are rare, but are taken seriously when they happen. The company said the guest involved has been removed from the platform.
For now, Livingston is spending a lot of her free time looking for a new place to rent in Charlottetown.
She said she's hoping the person behind the scam is caught, and wants anyone else who may have been a victim in this situation to come forward to police.
"I feel like on the Island here, we really put a lot of trust in strangers, but you really, you've got to be careful," Livingston said.
She said she's grateful she has a place to stay, but knows many others may not be so lucky.