One man is warning others to take precautions when house hunting online after he nearly became the victim of a real estate scam.

Tom Mason's search for an Orangville, Ont., home for his family was not going well. All the apartments that interested Mason were quickly snatched up by other prospective tenants.

Mason decided to take some initiative and placed a wanted ad on the classified site Kijiji.

A man who called himself Richard quickly emailed Mason about a rental property.

'There was no way this is for real.'—Tom Mason, searched for home online

Richard asked for $1,000 a month in rent for a home he said he had initially listed for sale after relocating to Iowa. He now wanted to rent it because, he said, the home had failed to attract a buyer after several months on the market.

"Seemed like just the perfect opportunity," said Mason, adding he viewed a video tour of the property. "He relocated. The house wasn’t selling."

But the red flags started popping up shortly after their initial correspondence. Richard asked Mason for a wire transfer the next day and promised his wife would soon fly to Toronto to hand over the keys.

"There was no way this is for real," said Mason.

He contacted the real estate agent on the house listing and discovered Richard was not the property owner.

How to avoid a scam

When buying anything on an online classified site, a buyer should meet with a seller in person, said Shawn McIntyre, a community relations manager at Kijiji.

"Obviously, you should be really concerned" if anyone asks for money without providing the item, the keys or a lease, he said.

Kijiji offers some tips for avoiding real estate scams online:

  • Ensure that you can view the property
  • Beware prices that seem too good to be true
  • Be wary of professional and low-resolution photos
  • Note that flowery descriptions, extensive features lists and repairs needed may signal an ad was copied from a real estate site
  • Use caution around ads that ask for personal information, like age or a SIN number

In the company's general tips on how to stay safe while using the site, Kijiji recommends never sending wire transfers.