A woman who hoped to start a new life in Ottawa — but instead discovered her worldly possessions had been left in a stranger's driveway — says she was duped into paying rent for a home that was occupied.
"I've been pretty numb to the situation, but I do feel very, very untrusting. I don't understand how someone could do that to somebody," Nikki Wilson told CBC News Thursday by phone. "It's been horrible."
Wilson, 28, and her partner are back at her father's home in Napanee, Ont., about 235 kilometres south of Ottawa, after what they thought would be their first night in their new house on Parkglen Drive.
They had placed an ad on the classified website Kijiji looking to rent a one- or two-bedroom home in Ottawa to "start fresh," Wilson said.
She'd lived in Napanee her whole life and wanted to make a change. Her partner was hoping to start work at a golf course and Wilson had dreams of starting her own business.
Responded to Kijiji ad
Wilson began texting and emailing with a man and woman who responded to her Kijiji ad. They called themselves Peter and Diane Sydney and told her they had a two-bedroom house for rent in Ottawa for $900 per month, she said.
They sent pictures and told Wilson the house could be furnished if needed. She declined the furnishings and said everything seemed fine.
Wilson said she sent $900 by electronic transfer on Tuesday, the day of the move, and said Peter texted her to say he'd received it and that his wife would be waiting at the house on Parkglen Drive for the new tenants to arrive.
But when Wilson arrived at the address with her father, they realized the home was occupied.
Meanwhile, everything belonging to Wilson and her partner was on its way to Ottawa with a mover driving a U-Haul.
Driver Richard Lalonde told CBC News he could not reach Wilson when he arrived in Ottawa in the middle of the night, and eventually unloaded the contents of the truck in the driveway because he needed the vehicle empty for a morning job in Kingston.
Wilson said she tried to reach Lalonde to let him know not to drop the stuff off, but couldn't reach him.
Lalonde had left Ottawa by the time he received Wilson's message on Wednesday morning, but returned in the afternoon to pick up her belongings.
"I felt so bad," he said.
Mystery pile in driveway
Kit Pullen, the owner of the house on Parkglen Drive, woke up Wednesday to find the contents of someone's home in his driveway, blocking his garage door and the car inside.
He later recalled answering a knock on his door the night before, but he told the man on his doorstep — Wilson's father, it turns out — there was no Peter living there. Pullen didn't immediately link the nocturnal visit to the stuff later found piled in his driveway.
'The internet, for some reason, seems to lull people into some sort of false sense of security.' - Staff-Sgt. Stephanie Burns, Ottawa police
Wilson said she realized she'd been duped when her father was turned away from the house she thought she'd rented — and when Peter stopped responding to her messages.
"I think that maybe, yeah, I was a bit naive, but I'm sure there's lots of other people out there that have been in the same situation and I feel for them, that's for sure," she said.
3 rental frauds per month
The head of the Ottawa police fraud unit told CBC News her officers deal with an average of three rental frauds per month, usually during spring and fall when students are moving.
"The internet, for some reason, seems to lull people into some sort of false sense of security," Staff-Sgt. Stephanie Burns said.
Kijiji Canada spokesman Shawn McIntyre said it's often possible to trace rental fraudsters.
"We've seen instances where they just cut and paste the same text into multiple emails to multiple people ... it's a numbers game," he said.
After the difficult ordeal, Wilson said she will take some time to recover in Napanee before trying again to find a place to live in Ottawa.
"It was just too much stress and I just wanted to be home," she said.