People from outside the province looking for a home in Halifax are being fleeced out of thousands of dollars by a rental scam.
Chris Jaison was living in Toronto and planning to move to Halifax in January. He spotted an advertisement on Kijiji for a room on Windsor Street and made e-payments for first and last month's rent plus a security deposit amounting to $1,600.
"I'm not sure I'd be getting a job right away once I got to Halifax." he said. "So I was kind of making my part a little bit easier … like, I'd be getting peace of mind once I moved to Halifax. Everything happened the direct opposite."
It was only when the man with whom he was communicating via email and text message asked for photocopies of the back of his roommate's bank card that he realized he had been conned.
He said he asked for his money back and was told he would get a refund but it never materialized.
"And I confirmed it was a 100 per cent scam," he said. "I just called my bank to report this issue. They told me that once an Interac transfer has been sent out they can't send the funds back because it's a completed transfer ... the funds have been deposited."
Jaison is not alone.
Jaydeep Bharvad lost $500 expecting to move into the same apartment. He said he realized it was a scam and refused to pay any more money.
Low vacancy rate encourages scammers
Halifax's low vacancy rate is encouraging scammers to take advantage of people who are unfamiliar with the city and desperate for a place to live.
Heather MacAulay, the owner of the home on Windsor Street, said more than 15 people have shown up at her home since March thinking they were moving in.
She said Jaison and his roommate came to her home as a courtesy upon arriving in Halifax. They showed her a copy of the Kijiji post.
"I thought it was a one-off, " she said. " It wasn't until the second victim showed up that I got a bit freaked out and reported it to police."
On Aug. 31, two men came to collect keys and organize groceries for a group of five friends who intended to fly in from Toronto and self-isolate, she said. She explained the situation to the men and doesn't know what happened to the group after that.
She said it raises concerns about others who have been defrauded and arrive in the city only to discover they don't have a place to stay.
MacAulay said she has posted a sign on her front door to alert any future victims, and to reduce her own risk of exposure to people coming from COVID hotspots.
Sang-gye Buschmann is a friend of a woman who fell victim to the scam.
She said the woman, who is from India, was staying with her temporarily and had met another Indian woman from Truro. They planned to room together at the Windsor Street home.
Buschmann said they called her when they arrived at the house with a moving van and discovered they had been duped.
'Betrayed, set up'
"There they are, the two girls, one is 22 and one is 24, both are not from this country. They're standing there hoping to move in and they've been betrayed, set up," she said.
Buschmann accompanied the women to make a report at the police station and said she was not happy with how the officer at the reception desk dealt with her complaint.
"The constable even said they didn't even do their due diligence. That's victim blaming. Like, due diligence. How are you supposed to do due diligence from Toronto?" she said.
A spokesperson for Halifax Regional Police said anyone who has a negative experience with police is encouraged to make a report to the department's professional standards office.
He said rental fraud is an ongoing problem and those committing it are always refining their techniques.
Lesley Dunn of RentersEd, a program that works to educate tenants, said it's important to follow basic rules when arranging for a rental.
"Do not exchange any money unless you have physically seen the space, had a look around, have a written lease agreement," she said.
She said it is important to report any incidents of rental fraud, but that sometimes victims are reluctant.
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