The internet knows no bounds. So no matter where you live, be wary if you’re looking to rent.
Related story here: Scammers use Castlegar home for rental fraud
When Cindy Amaral and her husband Herb moved back to the city and opened up Amaral Family Liquidation in downtown Trail – the first thing on the couple’s to-do list was to find a home to rent.
So she did what many choose to do these days and googled “houses for rent in Trail.”
Up popped a listing on “Prop 2 Go” (prop2go.com) of a rancher on Second Avenue that was available for rent at $1,400 a month, utilities included. In fact, on Monday, that same property was still being advertised for rent on that particular website.
It’s all a scam. The house has never been for rent.
Notably, the East Trail property was listed for sale online and is now sold. But it’s never been for rent.
The swindle began to unfold after Cindy contacted the supposed homeowner by email (provided on the website) and showed interest in renting the place. First, she had to complete a renter’s application which included her phone number, and email it back to the man who claimed he and his wife had moved out of the area.
After she sent off the paperwork, an email reply soon followed that included many “god bless you’s” and “take care of our house” sentiments. The hitch was that the Amarals had to e-transfer $2,100 – first month rent plus damage deposit – before this man would courier her the house keys.
Of course, Cindy responded that she wanted to walk through the home before committing to a rental. A call from Las Vegas (area code) quickly followed, and on the other end was a man with a thick foreign accent.
“After I said that I wanted to look inside the house, he phoned right away,” Cindy said. “I couldn’t really understand him but (the gist) was that a lot of people were looking at it.”
It’s important to note that the Amarals had already driven by the home and spotted a “For Sale” sign out front.
“I said, ‘Wouldn’t the real estate agent have them (the keys)?” she recalled. “And he said, ‘Oh no, only we have the keys.’”
Cindy hung up saying she would have to talk to her husband. But what she did, was call realtor Keith DeWitt from ReMax All Pro Realty, and confirm this was a scam.
“If it seems to good to be true, it probably is,” began seasoned realtor Keith DeWitt.
“All the information is already online for a sale property, so they can just grab it and post it as if they own the house.”
DeWitt emphasized this scheme has been going on for years, and this isn’t the first time one of his sale properties has been fraudulently advertised for rent online.
“It’s always out-of-town people that are putting it up,” he said. “They live in different countries … all they want is your money. Not very often have I heard about someone actually passing over money, they usually somehow figure it out before it gets to that stage, but we’ll get a phone call and ask us if this house is for rent.”
That’s the first warning sign, DeWitt continued.
“Not very often is something for sale and for rent at the same time – it’s usually one or the other – so that’s your first tip-off.”
The best piece of advice is to never send money without seeing the rental in-person.
“If you can’t get a key to go have a look or meet somebody at the door, I wouldn’t be giving anyone any money,” DeWitt said. “And you can call the listing agent, they can tell you right away if it’s for rent. Even if (the rental) is posted on a legit website … I’d still be wary.”
As far as tracking down internet fraudsters and stopping their racket, it seems technology has advanced well beyond the reach of authorities.
“We’ve alerted the police to it over the years,” DeWitt said. “But it’s out of their jurisdiction, because the people who are doing these scams, they don’t live here.”