Rental scams target students in Waterloo region

Erin Doyle was skeptical about the perfect apartment, but even more so when the landlord claimed to be a British trauma surgeon. Rental scams are not uncommon on sites like Kijiji, but are dangerous for students searching on a deadline, and especially for first time renters.

Students might ignore warning signs during desperate apartment hunt

By searching the internet for photo use and discovering identical images were included in multiple scams from across Ontario, Erin Doyle avoided falling victim to an apartment scam "too good to be true." (Kijiji)

Erin Doyle knew something was up when a potential landlord started asking about trust.

The fourth year Laurier Sociology major was searching for her first apartment, when she and her partner Patrick Roman thought they'd found a deal.

The place, which was listed at seven hundred dollars a month all-inclusive, seemed ideal for students, and the lease was offered at long-term, short term and even month-to-month leases.

She was skeptical, but became even more so when he claimed to be a trauma surgeon working in the U.K., and claimed the name of rock legend Bryan Ferry.

Rental scams are not uncommon on sites like Kijiji and Airbnb. And they are dangerous pitfalls for students searching for affordable housing, especially first time renters on a deadline to find accommodation before the school year starts.

Alarm bells

Waterloo Regional Police report that rental fraud cases increase at the end of semesters, when students are subletting, or planning their accommodations for the next year.
Erin Doyle, a fourth year Sociology student at Laurier, identified a rental scam while searching for her first apartment. (Erin Doyle Google+)

They warn prospective renters not to send money when dealing with someone you have only contacted through the internet, and caution against wiring funds to anyone remotely.

Like many students, Doyle was sending out multiple messages daily, searching for a place. She thought she had finally gotten lucky. 

I definitely feel the desperation right now.- Erin Doyle

"At the start we thought it was a too good to be true thing that was happening, we thought 'oh my god we need to scoop this before anyone else picks this thing up'," Doyle told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

The scammer offered to send Doyle the apartment keys if they transferred first and last month's rent. But the potential landlord avoided setting a time for in-person apartment viewings. This set off alarm bells for Doyle.

Doyle and Roman played it safe, reporting the ad before sending money or personal information. But others haven't been so lucky.

She shared the scam on a Waterloo Reddit, and found others in the region with similar experiences, including one individual who reported losing $1,000 in a scam.

"It just made me feel very ill at the end, just knowing that other people might not be as skeptical as I was," she said.

'Competitive market'

For first-time renters and students without credit or references, it can be hard to be approved by some realtors. The apartment renting process is even more challenging in an area that houses more than 50,000 students for most of the year.

"It's a really competitive market," Doyle said, "and you're not going to be accepted by everyone. I definitely feel the desperation right now."

At just a few weeks before the school year starts, Doyle is still waiting to hear back about potential apartments, and to make matters worse, she knows she's not the only one still looking.

While her experience was "unsavoury", she's still using Kijiji and other so-called "trust based" websites to find a place to live.

"I still use them because they're the only options that are really there for students," said Doyle. Still, "I'm extremely cautious, and I try to get more information than I used to."

"I wish there was  a way to make Kijiji a bit safer. But the only advice that works at the moment is that you have to be cautious."

If residents or students find themselves a victim of these scams, or potentially one online, they can contact the police fraud investigation unit, or find out more on their website.