Hamilton man says scammer used his home to promote ad for fake rental unit
Homeowner Gary Brown says a woman told him she was duped into paying 1st, last month's rent
In the middle of winter last year, Gary Brown said he and his family encountered a teary-eyed woman at the front door of their Hamilton Mountain home.
The woman told Brown she had responded to an online ad that said his basement was available to rent, and she had already paid the deposit of first and last month's rent.
Brown said he told her what he's told roughly five other people — the ad was a scam.
"She said she had struggled to get the down payment together and it was basically all she had, and she said to me, 'I might end up living on the street,'" the 61-year-old homeowner told CBC News.
Brown said a scammer has been using his address and a picture of his home to falsely advertise a basement for rent.
It's unclear how common this kind of scam is and how much money the fraudster got in total from the fake ad, which was placed amid a red hot rental and real estate market.
Brown said he first learned about the scam last summer after someone knocked on his door.
He soon discovered fake ads on sites like Kijiji about a one-bedroom apartment in his basement, offering the space for $1,000 per month — far below $1,514, the average rent price for a one-bedroom apartment in Hamilton, according to Rentals.ca.
CBC Hamilton found a now-deleted advertisement offering the unit for $800 per month.
Brown said the ads featured a picture of his home and a picture of a basement from another home.
At least six people have approached the home, while others have peeked into the backyard, he said.
Based on conversations he's had with some of those people, Brown said, the scammer told prospective tenants he was a trucker from Montreal and couldn't meet them in person, but would give them access to the unit if they paid a deposit with the first and last month's rent.
While most of them said they hadn't paid, Brown said the situation has him upset.
"They're the victims, but I also feel like we're a victim because [the scammer] is using our house," Brown said, adding he hasn't had anyone approach the home since the winter.
How to avoid rental scams
Brown said he reported it to Kijiji and the listing was removed soon after.
Kijiji Canada told CBC it takes claims of fraud "extremely seriously" and has a team to weed out scammers.
Our guidance to our users is to exercise caution if something looks too good to be true.- Kijiji Canada
"When it comes to renting property on Kijiji, our guidance to our users is to exercise caution if something looks too good to be true," read a statement, adding there are other resources on its website.
Brown also said he reported it to the police twice, but he was told there wasn't much they could do.
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Hamilton police spokesperson Jackie Penman said the service doesn't have any reports of a rental scam involving Brown's address.
"Hamilton police would always recommend scheduling a showing and meeting the landlord in person. It is also important to ensure renters request a lease and review it accordingly," she wrote.
Competition Bureau Canada's webpage for rental scams describes a situation similar to what Brown described.
It said red flags to watch for are:
- When the monthly rent is lower than other similar places.
- When you're asked to leave a deposit without any formal rental agreement or lease in place.
- When you're asked to send money to someone outside the country.
- When you ask about the apartment and you get an email that sends you to a website asking for personal or financial information.
Tips to avoid this kind of scam include:
- Going to the address or find actual images of the rental.
- Researching the address to ensure it is not a duplicate post or using a reverse image search to see if the photos in the listing were used elsewhere.
- Scheduling a showing and confirm that the landlord will be present.
- Contacting the builder to confirm ownership.
- Requesting a lease or contract.