After a couple was scammed out of $2,000 this weekend for a rental unit that didn’t exist, a Lunenburg property owner is urging people to be extra vigilant.
On Sunday, Emily Black created a Facebook post warning people that her Lunenburg property was not for rent.
“It’s the second time this has happened but we caught the fake ad on the first one. The house is currently rented to wonderful long-term tenants through A1 property management. It is a single family home and the basement is not a separate apartment,” Black wrote.
“Please do your due diligence and I know rentals are few and far between but make sure you see the property and it’s all legit because someone is preying on these people. The matter has been reported to the RCMP.”
Sonya Major owns A-1 Property Management and manages Black’s property.
“I hear about it more in larger metropolitan areas, not in little old Lunenburg,” Major said in an interview Monday afternoon.
“So it was very upsetting to hear that that happened to these poor people, for them to lose $2,000.”
‘There is no basement apartment’
Major said she received a phone call at 3pm Saturday afternoon from the tenants who rent the Lunenburg property on Green Street.
They were seeking her advice after finding strangers roaming their backyard. When they went outside to ask what was happening, the strangers informed the tenants they were moving in.
“Our tenant said, ‘No you’re not, because we live here. This house is not available for rent.’ They said, ‘Oh, no, we’re moving into the basement apartment.’ And she said, ‘Well, there is no basement apartment,’” Major said.
“The couple saw this ad on Kijiji…and they wanted this place so badly. They sent a $2,000 security deposit through to whoever. They didn’t know who it was, and then got a U-Haul and literally showed up to move in and were told, sorry, this place is already occupied.”
This is the second time the house was used in a rental scam. Major said the first time, one of the owner’s friends alerted her after seeing the already rented house advertised on Facebook.
This latest fraudulent rental advertisement for the property was posted on Kijiji.
“If you look at the picture of the house that was posted on Kijiji, it’s quite an old picture. The house isn’t even the same colour now. So I think they found some old real estate ad is my guess. It’s certainly not one that we’ve ever had posted anywhere,” Major said.
“But you can see how this can happen, right? People can snag a picture, post it as an ad, and have somebody vulnerable enough pick it up and send them a security deposit without a lease or without having seen the house.”
People desperate for a place
Major described it as a situation exacerbated by the lack of available places to rent. She said her company never takes a security deposit from anybody until the renters have a signed lease and have actually seen the property.
The couple defrauded over the weekend had never been inside the house.
In cases where someone is moving from another country, Major said she advises them to have a friend or agent working on their behalf view any property both inside and outside.
“We do run into a lot of people, young people particularly, looking for nice places to live. You can see how people could get desperate. It’s tough. If I post an ad for a property I get a lot of responses in short order. Like 40 or 50 responses right away,” Major said.
“There are a lot of people out there looking. So sometimes if they think, ‘Oh, I found something,’ they’ll move along faster than they should without doing their due diligence.”
Both the tenants and the defrauded couple reported this weekend’s incident to RCMP.
‘Send more money’
In late October, Dawn Saulnier found herself scammed out of $550 she thought was being used as a deposit to secure a mobile home rental in Bridgewater.
Saulnier had replied to an ad for the property that was supposedly for rent. She was advised to send a deposit to the man’s “lawyer” via an email address that differed from the one used for their correspondence.
One of her friends became concerned after learning the mobile home was up for sale. Her friend called the realtor selling the home. She was told the person to whom Saulnier sent money wasn’t the owner.
Saulnier called the real estate agent herself to confirm the mobile home at that address was for sale, not for rent.
When she contacted the scammer about the discrepancy, he told her the real estate company was actually out of the picture. She was advised to ignore them as they were no longer doing business together.
In the meantime, he was also advising Saulnier to send another $200. That was to secure the keys so they could be sent by FedEx on the Saturday morning of her move.
“He said ‘Send me 200 more dollars and you will get the keys.’ It was always send more money, send more money. We were living in a hotel room waiting to find a stable place to go,” Saulnier said in an interview.
“This is happening a lot. I was very desperate for a place. Lots of people right now are desperate. I’m just glad that I caught on to everything before (losing more money).”
‘I don’t trust anybody anymore’
Saulnier did contact police. Although they took it seriously, she said there wasn’t much they could do.
Despite the scammer’s promises to refund her the $550, it was never returned. She has since moved to Yarmouth and very recently found a place.
“The lesson that I learned from all of this is I don’t trust anybody anymore. I’m flabbergasted by the whole thing. I was really hurt by it all, confused,” Saulnier said.
“It just disgusts me that people would do something like that to somebody who doesn’t have anything.”
Scams becoming ‘more and more common’
In an emailed statement, RCMP Halifax District public information officer Cpl. Guillaume Tremblay told the Halifax Examiner that although he didn’t have immediate data, he could confirm that scams “in general” are becoming “more and more common.”
“With low housing supply and high demand, rental scams are as popular as ever. Never send a rental deposit until you’ve had a chance to view the place in person,” he said.
“And if the landlord can’t meet you, and there’s urgency to pay a deposit, beware that you’re likely being lured into a scam and it’s probably best to find another place to call home.”
The three most common scams seen by Nova Scotia RCMP in the last few weeks include the rental scam, grandparent scam, and text scams.
“Our best defence against scams is proactive education to ensure the public is aware of current trends,” Tremblay said.
“Scammers are very convincing and always put on a sense of urgency. It’s important for everyone to remember not to e-transfer anyone money, follow your gut feeling, if something feels off it’s likely a scam.”
Tremblay also said when it comes to tracking e-transfers, financial crime investigations are very complex.
“Tracking e-transfers often require multiple Judicial Authorizations which often lead investigators to financial transactions outside of Canada, or to multiple other financial transactions,” he wrote.
“To obtain information and evidence located outside of Canada, this can include the location of servers for example, Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) must be in place.”