Nova Scotia·Video

After catching on to rental scam, Halifax man plays along with scammer

A Halifax resident says he nearly fell for a scam while searching for apartments on Kijiji. He's warning others to be vigilant when applying for an apartment online, particularly if the offer seems too good to be true.

'It's really easy to fall for one of these scams when it seems like a dream come true,' says Alex MacLeod

After catching on to rental scam, Halifax man plays along with scammer

3 years ago
Duration 2:54
A Halifax resident says he nearly fell for a scam while searching for apartments on Kijiji. He's warning others to be vigilant when applying for apartment online, particularly if the offer seems too good to be true.

A Halifax resident is speaking out after a brush with an online rental scam.

After graduating with a computer science degree last year, Alex MacLeod said low vacancy rates made it difficult to find a place to live, so he was staying with friends while apartment hunting in the city.

"To find a good deal, it's very competitive, so that's why it's really easy to fall for one of these scams when it seems like a dream come true," he said.

Last month, he noticed an advertisement for an apartment on Robie Street that sounded almost too good to be true. The furnished, one-bedroom apartment included parking and utilities for about $820 per month.

The ad asked respondents to contact the landlord through an external email address, rather than through the Kijiji platform. MacLeod said he was surprised to receive a reply from a different address than the one he messaged.

Alex MacLeod says the biggest red flag was when the supposed landlord told him they didn't live in Halifax. (David Laughlin/CBC)

MacLeod said the person who responded introduced himself as "Peter Malcolm." The person provided further information about the apartment and then offered MacLeod a rental application to fill out.

MacLeod said with his background in cybersecurity, he's always wary of potential phishing scams where scammers attempt to gain sensitive information from victims over the internet.

"I was ready for the first question to be like, 'Social insurance number? Credit card number?' those sorts of things, but there was nothing, it was so innocent," he said.

In the application, Malcolm asked MacLeod for things like his name and phone number, current residence, why he was planning to move, whether he smoked and the earliest date he could move in. None of this seemed out of the ordinary to MacLeod, so he completed the application and turned it in.

After MacLeod returned the application, Malcolm sent details that included how he moved to the U.K. for medical school and how he inherited the apartment in Halifax from his late father.

The person calling themselves Peter Malcolm sent increasingly personal information through his email exchange with MacLeod, including a supposed photo of himself with his wife. (David Laughlin/CBC)

"All the emails were weirdly personal … it was this very long story to make sense of why he was living in another country and why he couldn't come to Halifax," said MacLeod, who added that the information "doesn't add up."

The person calling themself Malcolm did not respond to requests from CBC News for an interview.

Why MacLeod played along

While MacLeod said he was sure it was a scam, he played along to get more insight into the operation because the ad seemed real.

Despite MacLeod having neither signed a rental agreement nor seen the actual apartment, Malcolm sent a Word document advising him to send his rental deposit to a third-party account in exchange for the apartment keys, which would be shipped to Halifax in under 48 hours. The document included a link to a website for a real shipping company in the U.K.

Malcolm attached a Word document to one of the emails, with instructions for MacLeod to send his rental deposit to Grange Shipping Limited in the U.K. (David Laughlin/CBC)

MacLeod was told to send his first month's rent to the account, after which he would receive the keys from Grange Shipping Limited and could then inspect the apartment and either keep the keys or return them for a full refund.

John Grange is the director of Grange Shipping Limited in Felixstowe, U.K. The company specializes in freight shipping of explosives and other commercial cargo. He's been receiving calls and messages from people looking for their keys.

"At first we didn't understand what it was about," he said. "We tried to explain to them that we have nothing to do with it."

Grange said one caller from Ontario told him they paid $3,000 in paysafecards to someone named "Nicholas Miller" in London. Grange added a message to the company's website to warn people about the scam.

Recruitment scam

After Malcolm explained the process to get the keys, MacLeod told him he was no longer interested. Malcolm emailed back, offering to fly to Halifax to meet MacLeod in person and asked MacLeod to post an ad to his own Kijiji account.

"My wife also has an apartment for which we would like to find a good tenant… unfortunately Kijiji restricts posting to Canada only," Malcolm wrote. "You'll have $100.00 off your first month's rent if you help me."

Kent Sikstrom is Kijiji's community relations manager. He said people can post ads to Kijiji from anywhere in the world. He said the scenario sounds like a typical recruitment scam.

A Kijiji official says it's common for fraudsters to try to engage victims in other scams if the initial one falls through. (CBC)

"If a particular fraud attempt is unsuccessful, sometimes the scammer will try and recruit that person by promising them an easy employment opportunity or to make money quickly, and all they need to do is use their existing Kijiji account to post an ad on behalf of the third party or scammer," he said.

Sikstrom said the tactic allows scammers to post ads from established, local accounts to make them seem more legitimate by taking advantage of the user's good standing.

"And then you try to manipulate that person to redirect any leads to that ad back to an external email," he said, noting this makes the scam more difficult to track.

How not to get rental scammed

Halifax District RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Lisa Croteau said the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre keeps track of rental scams across the country and any suspicious activity should be reported to it or local police.

"If your gut doesn't feel right ... give them a call and they can look into it," she said.

Croteau advised online apartment hunters to do their homework before sending money or information to potential landlords. This should include doing online searches.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Lisa Croteau says it's important for prospective renters to do some due diligence about rental units and their landlords. (David Laughlin/CBC)

"Sometimes there might be several ads for the same place," she said. "Other people may have put stuff online regarding this person or this property as well."

Croteau recommended visiting the rental unit, doing a walk-through with the landlord and asking for a rental agreement.

"People who are going to be into these scams may not have all those steps," she said.

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