'All I did was start crying': 2 women say they lost thousands in P.E.I. rental scam
'I just looked up telltale signs of someone trying to scam you and he fit every single one'
Two separate apartment hunters say they're out thousands of dollars after being scammed while looking for a place to rent in Charlottetown.
Kayla Westhaver-Covin, of Nova Scotia, was accepted to a summer internship on P.E.I. and, in February, began looking for an apartment on Kijiji.
After searching unsuccessfully, she posted a wanted ad and was messaged almost immediately by someone, she said, who claimed to have an apartment available on Belvedere Avenue in Charlottetown, and that it would be ready for her on June 1.
"We started talking via email and he had sent me pictures of it. It wasn't anything crazy fancy, but it was nice. So it didn't ring any bells there," she said.
"Then he sent me a lease that was apparently contracted by his lawyer. The lease was very thorough. It was 10 pages and I didn't think anything of it."
'I had a gut feeling'
Westhaver-Covin said they chatted over email for three months and said he told her he'd transferred to New York for work, so money transfers had to be sent to his lawyer.
She said she wired over $600 for the damage deposit, and later another payment over $600 for her first month's rent.
As the move-in date approached, Westhaver-Covin said she emailed him repeatedly that she was moving to the Island soon and needed the keys for the apartment.
Eventually she said he told her the keys were sent, and she asked for a tracking number.
"When I didn't get a response for the tracking number, I had a gut feeling," she said. "I just looked up telltale signs of someone trying to scam you and he fit every single one of the criteria."
The pictures were great, he said it was $800 for rent… it sounded like the perfect deal.— Patricia Manguiob
She filed a report with the police and has since found a place to stay. Although, she said she's "devastated" by the experience — and out nearly $1,300 as a result.
Westhaver-Covin said she was so desperate to find whatever place she could — in a city where the vacancy rate has hovered near zero per cent — the thought of being scammed wasn't top of mind.
"I like to think of myself as a trusting person … I definitely should have asked for more information, I should have tried out the phone number on the lease, I should have spoken to him on the phone at the very least, but that never happened," she said.
"I was just so excited that I kind of missed all those important steps."
From Edmonton to P.E.I. — same apartment
Patricia Manguiob made the payments, drove across the country from Edmonton to Charlottetown, just to experience the same thing.
Like Westhaver-Covin, she was moving to P.E.I. for the summer and had no luck apartment hunting — so she posted a wanted ad on Kijiji.
And, like Westhaver-Covin, was contacted right after posting the ad.
"This person reached out to me … he said that he had a fully-furnished apartment," she said. "The pictures were great, he said it was $800 for rent for one month, everything included, it sounded like the perfect deal."
I definitely should have asked for more information, I should have tried out the phone number on the lease.— Kayla Westhaver-Covin
Manguiob's boyfriend lives on the Island and she asked if he could check out the place for her. She said the request was met with excuses and no apartment visit was arranged.
Desperate and worried she wouldn't have a place to live, she said she hastily made the wire payments to lock down the spot, sending roughly $1,100.
When she got to the Island and wanted to pick up the keys, she learned after more research that the apartment — the same one promised to Westhaver-Covin — was owned by Capreit, a real estate company, and not the person she'd been emailing.
"I couldn't even think, all I did was start crying. Just the feeling of getting scammed and people playing you in that way, it just sucks," she said. "I drove all the way here expecting to have this place."
She, too, reported what happened to the police.
'I want everyone to know'
In an emailed statement to CBC News, Trish MacPherson, the executive vice-president of operations at Capreit, said this is an issue that happens across the country from time to time and encouraged renters to report all the details to the police.
"We sincerely hope that this customer gets resolution to the incident, and if we can help find an available apartment, we would be happy to do so," she said.
Westhaver-Covin and Manguiob eventually found each other through Facebook — after Westhaver-Covin posted what happened to her.
"Same story, same contract, same lawyer, everything was the same," Manguiob said.
"It already sucked that I had to go through it, and then now knowing that a lot more people are getting victimized by this, it was so shocking to me. Now I want everyone to know."
CBC News has called, texted and emailed the contact information the women were given, but didn't get a response.
'Very difficult to discern what is accurate'
Since December 2018, Charlottetown police have received approximately 10 complaints of suspicious ads, frauds, or schemes involving rentals, according to Sgt. Chris Watts.
Most of which, he said, stem from ads with scammers patrolling sites seeking people out deliberately.
Watts said ads and respondents can present themselves as legitimate, especially to people who "are really in dire straits as far as finding accommodations."
"It's very difficult to discern what is accurate and what is a fraud," he said. "Basically it's the ad in reverse … the fraudster would seek out the individuals and use the fraudulent address, which is actually a legitimate address but not something they would have [ownership rights] to."
In an emailed response to CBC News, Kijiji pointed to the Avoiding Real Estate Scams section of its website where it suggests "a few things to keep in mind in order to avoid falling prey to a real estate scam."
- Does the price seem realistic for the number of bedrooms, location and amenities provided?
- Be wary of photos that are very low resolution or look slick and professional (for example, a model home or suite) if the property is being sold or rented privately.
- Will you actually be able to view the place before you put down a deposit?
- Many foreign scammers will offer pictures but will be unavailable for viewings. They will claim to be overseas but in reality, they do not own the property in the listing. This is a scam.
- Be wary of overly flowery descriptions.
- In an attempt to be as descriptive as possible, scammers often copy ads from other real estate sites.