Narrowly avoids losing $1,600 to fake homeowner
A Bay Roberts woman has learned from personal experience that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
© Screengrab from kijiji.ca
Lisa Jones, a single mother, posted an ad on kijiji.ca looking for a new place to live with her nine-year-old daughter.
It wasn't long before she was contacted by someone saying they had a solution to her problem.
"Someone replied... claiming to own a house in Bay Roberts... stating they live in Ontario," Jones said.
The email, which was sent on March 20, had a few grammatical errors in it, but she only had a month to find a place and thought she'd give her potential landlord the benefit of the doubt. The price was good and the location was close to her daughter's school.
"Available now. We are great landlord (sic). Looking for a responsible, neat, queit (sic) and non-party tenant for our two-bedroom house in St. John's area. It cost $800, include all utilities. Pet friendly home. Contact us (landlord) directly on email. Thanks," the response from "Jessica Benson" said.
Photos were sent to Jones, which included pictures of the bedroom, bathroom and other rooms. The person also sent a photo of a couple, claiming it was Jessica and her husband.
The Compass found most of the photos of those rooms were used elsewhere on Craigslist for other reported rental scams, with the bathroom photo also appearing on a listing in Waterloo, Ont.
Through the emails, Jones was asked to fill out an application, which included her full name, current address, phone number, occupation, birthdate, references and other questions.
They also asked for a bank draft and the signing of a rental agreement. She was asked to send the first and last months' rent, a total of $1,600, in the bank draft. She didn't send the money.
"It's a lot of money up front," Jones said.
The person sending the emails refused to let her see the inside of the house until the money was paid and an application was filled out.
In the emails, she was given the address and took a drive by with a friend. It was then that Jones realized she knew the person that lived in the home.
"When I drove by the location they gave me, my friend told me that it belonged to a gentleman I knew was good friends with my pop," Jones explained.
She began to get suspicious of the email and called her grandmother, who confirmed the man still lived there. So she looked up his phone number and contacted him.
The homeowner told her there were rental scams on the news recently and that she may have been contacted by one of those scammers.
"If I didn't know the man that lived there, and was in desperate need of a place, I would have lost $1,600," Jones said.
Although she was aware of the situation, she kept in contact with the person, in hope that they would be held responsible for the scam.
Jones initially called Crime Stoppers and referred her to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), a repository for fraud information.
There are many types of fraud reports that the CAFC receives, including for rentals, winning a lottery or sweepstakes contest, fake inheritance and false charities collecting money. They also receive reports from those duped by an online relationship scam, Ponzi schemes and emergency fraud.
A CAFC voice recording directed Jones to contact police. She eventually got in touch with the RCMP. Staff Sgt. Greg Hicks of the Trinity Conception detachment told The Compass how the RCMP typically handles a fraud case.
"We will take their report and document it. As many of these scams are coming from any number of places around the globe, the Anti-Fraud Centre is a good way to ensure that the scam is documented for appropriate follow up ... If the issue is local we will investigate and follow up accordingly. Further, if we can identify where the suspect is operating from, we would notify the local police in that area," he explained.
Jones wants others to be aware that this isn't just happening in St. John's. People are getting targeted everywhere now.
"You wouldn't think this could happen (in Bay Roberts)," she said. "Everybody kind of knows each other, it's a small place."
The RCMP do advise people to report fraud, but also to be careful when dealing with people online or over the phone.
"It can be very frustrating for victims, which is why so much effort has been put into notifying the public to be vigilant," Hicks explained.
That's exactly what Jones will be doing, since she is still looking for a place to live before May 1. If you can help Jones and her daughter, she can be reached at email@example.com.