(Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash)

Trail renters warned to watch for viral scams

The Better Business Bureau is advising of rental scams with a unique “COVIDIAN” twist.

The Better Business Bureau is warning the public of rental scams with a unique “COVIDIAN” twist.

And Greater Trail is not immune to these types of online scams.

Last year at least two rental frauds were reported, one in Tadanac where a house ‘for sale’ showed up as a rental listing on www.prop2go.com, and another in East Trail where a home was fraudulently listed as a rental property on the same website.

“These types of rental frauds are common where the fraudster attempts to have the victim send him/her a deposit of untraceable electronic funds to ‘secure the rental,’” Trail RCMP Sgt. Mike Wicentowich explained to the Times.

Millions of scam listings for apartments, houses and vacation properties appear online, however, the BBB (Better Business Bureau) is urging the public to watch out for a recent scam that exploits the safety precautions brought on by COVID-19.

Fraudsters search for information about legitimate rental or sale properties on specialty websites. Then they copy the ads and repost them on a different platform, usually on Craigslist, Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace, and pretend to be the owners.

In order to attract interest, the rent amount for the property is usually below market price.

When consumers contact the scammer, they are invited to see the apartment/house but are informed that due to COVID-19 restrictions, they are unable to meet in person for a viewing.

The scammer encourages the potential renter to visit the property and do an inspection from outside.

If they wish to proceed with the rental, the scammer tells them to make a payment online for the first month’s rent or a security deposit.

The scammer also promises to make arrangements to sign the lease agreement once COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, and urges victims to make payment as soon as possible to secure the rental.

“An advertised rental may seem like the perfect fit for you but it may be a scam”, says Karla Laird, Manager for Community and Public Relations at BBB serving Mainland BC. “While we have not received any COVID-19 rental scam reports for our province, we anticipate this could be a new scam trend and are urging consumers to be on the lookout.

“Last year, more than five million people across North America lost over $500 to rental scams, and with COVID-19 adding further opportunities for scammers, this could lead to a spiral in reports across Canada”.

Popular online marketplaces for renters such as Craigslists, Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace have taken steps to screen and minimize fraudulent postings, and, while these efforts are commendable, consumer reports suggest that some ads have evaded their efforts.

BBB offers the following tips to the public:

– Do not send money to anyone.

– Avoid making payments to a landlord who you have never met in person.

– You should be able to inspect the property yourself to determine the authenticity of the offer.

– Be wary if the alleged owner or property manager wants money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or a gift card.

– Do a web search about the person or property in question. A simple review can reveal a lot of vital information about the property, the landlord or real estate agent in charge of it. Does the property exist at that address? Does the same photo appear at different locations?

Search the entire Craigslist site for duplicate ads.

Avoid any unrealistic promotions, offers or rentals advertised well below market rates. This is a classic strategy to lure in rental scam victims.

Watch out for virtual tour offers. Scammers sometimes offer a virtual tour of the home instead of a real visit.

To avoid being scammed, visit the property you are interested in renting. Ask to see inside. If you cannot, walk away from the offer.

If you have spotted a scam where fraudsters are impersonating local businesses to deceive consumers, report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker.

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