tp-ottawa-091006-for-rent-sign

Renters are always advised to shop locally when it comes to finding apartments online. ((Emily Chung/CBC))

Newfoundland landlord Joe Guiney found himself involved in an internet scam after he posted a condo rental ad on the internet classified site Kijiji.ca.

Guiney was hoping to find a good tenant for Jan. 1 for his St. John's condo.

He became suspicious when he got a call from someone asking if his condo was the same one being advertised on Craigslist, another free internet classified site.

"I had only posted the ad on Kijiji, so I was surprised," he told CBC Radio's As It Happens, Thursday.

He went to Craigslist and found the ad, but the 'landlord' was only asking half the amount he was, and claimed he'd been transferred to the United Kingdom for a couple of years.

"lt was all my pictures. It was the exact ad, word for word. There were some changes. I had said no pets, and he said dogs, cats allowed, smoking allowed, so I guess he was trying to expand his potential clients," said Guiney.

Guiney called police and was told there was little they could do. He then called Craigslist and told them there was a fraudulent ad on their website, but he said nothing was done.

Guiney decided to investigate on his own.

"I contacted him under the guise of being a potential tenant, asking 'could you tell me more about it, etc.' And he ignored any specific questions," said Guiney.

He was told that if he wanted to view the property, he would have to send a deposit to a third party shipping firm, which would ship him the keys upon payment. He could view the apartment, and if he liked it, authorize the shipping firm to release the money.

The fake landlord pulled the ad after Guiney pressured him for more information.

Earlier in November, a couple of students from rural Newfoundland were duped out of more than $1,000 in a similar scam. They were looking to rent an apartment and contacted a landlord about a rental posting they had found on the internet. They were told the landlord lived outside the province and were instructed to send a deposit in order to get the keys. They did, but the keys never arrived.

"It's hard to scam the scammers," said Guiney, who is still trying to find a good tenant.

The rental scam is not new. The Federal Bureau of Investigation released an advisory in the U.S. in August.

According to the FBI's website, the Craigslist rental scam, or 419 scam, as it is dubbed, appears to originate in Nigeria.

"The Nigerian scammer will state that they had to leave the country very quickly to do missionary or contract work in Africa and were unable to rent their house before leaving, therefore they have to take care of this remotely," says the FBI advisory.

"The "homeowner" sends the prospective renter an application and tells them to send them first and last month’s rent via Western Union. The prospective renter is told If they qualify, they will be sent the keys for the house.

A quick tour of the internet found several posters warning of being duped.

One person in Denver described a suspicious post related to a four-bedroom house for rent on Craigslist.

"I asked about this post and they sent me all kinds of info (wanted my profile where I lived and so on) and plus the other day they wanted $900 for rent! So not cool!! He claimed that he was from West Africa and just would send the keys! So do not let this person hurt you," wrote the poster.

Guiney, who is still angry that his ad may have been used to dupe unsuspecting renters.

"If it's too good to be true, it probably is," he said.

"They seem to prey on two kinds of people: trustful people and guys that want to get a deal," he said.