Toronto

Long-time rental scam artist back in business, police say

Toronto police have three arrest warrants out for a long-time scam artist who appears to be back in business in the city, bilking would-be apartment renters out of thousands of dollars.

Police concerned that in a tight rental market, more people will fall victim

Enrique Miranda and his father set up an air mattress in Miranda's apartment after the short-term rental they had secured turned out to be a scam. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Toronto police have three arrest warrants out for a long-time scam artist who appears to be back in business in the city, bilking would-be apartment renters out of thousands of dollars.

Toronto resident Enrique Miranda is one of the latest victims, losing $500 to a man he knew only as "Brad," but who he says is actually Robert Charles Reid, whose criminal record for fraud and impersonation offences goes back 38 years.

Miranda was looking for a short-term rental for his father, who is visiting from Nicaragua, for the month of September. He put the word out online and was contacted by "Brad," who was offering an unfurnished apartment near the St. George subway station. "Brad" was articulate and well-dressed, and told Miranda that he and his girlfriend had broken up and he just wanted to cover his portion of the rent.

"I was willing to believe it," Miranda said, noting that he had been looking for a short-term rental for his father somewhere downtown for weeks.

"Brad" insisted that Miranda e-transfer him the funds. When Miranda and his father arrived at the apartment on September 1, "Brad" was nowhere to be found and did not reply to Miranda's texts and phone calls.

"Coming here talking to the superintendent, he tells me I've been scammed. He tells me that he rented the place out from someone for two weeks, and in that time he scammed at least three other people," Miranda told CBC News. "So from then on I filed my police report."

Miranda did some research online. He found a picture of the guy he knew as "Brad" identified as Reid, who has been scamming people for rent money in Toronto and Vancouver for years.

'Oh my god, he's back in town'

In February, CBC's Go Public team did a story about accusations that Reid scammed renters using Airbnb properties in British Columbia.

Since May, Toronto police have received eight complaints similar to Miranda's. Reid is the suspect in all of those cases.

Det.-Const. Avtar Ghuman first encountered Reid in September 2010. Between then and January 2011, three victims came forward about rental scams.

He was arrested for an unrelated matter in June 2011, pleaded guilty and served four months in jail, a typical sentence for a property crime, according to Ghuman.

Reid's record goes back 38 years, Ghuman said.

"I'm not sure this guy's ever held a job in his life," Ghuman said.

Reid is well-dressed, articulate, fit, Ghuman said. "It's not hard to see why people get taken in by him."

After Reid went to jail in 2011, Ghuman didn't hear about him again until November of 2015, when a complainant came forward with a familiar allegation.

"And I was like, 'Oh my god, he's back in town. Where the hell did he come from?' It was like a blast from the past. And if there's one victim, there's going to be more."

Ghuman has a warrant out for Reid's arrest, and two more have been issued: one from 11 Division and another from 14 Division.

A voicemail box at a phone number connected with Reid was full when CBC News called on Wednesday.

Robert Reid, 58, has been charged and convicted of dozens of counts of fraud in Vancouver, Toronto and California. (Facebook/CBC)

'I felt rotten'

As Ghuman describes it, Reid's general M.O. has been to list an apartment he has secured for a short-term rental online and agree to lease it to numerous people. By the time the renters realize they can't move into the unit, the man they've rented the apartment from has their money and is long gone.

"So by the time one, two, three, four victims turn up, he's long gone, he's out of the picture,"Ghuman said. "And that's when they all start bumping into each other and saying, 'Wait a minute, what are you doing here?"

Such scams can bring in thousands of dollars each month.

While Miranda only lost $500, it was enough to impact his father's vacation. He had to sleep on an air mattress near the kitchen of his son's small one-bedroom because he couldn't afford to rent another place.

"I felt rotten," Miranda said. And he plans to be more careful in the future.

"Experiences cost you a lot," he said. "For next time I'm just going to go through the management boards. But when it comes to anything like Airbnb or Kijiji or anything like that, I'm not going to take my chances. I'm going to play it safe."

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Tips when looking for a rental property

According to Ghuman, renters in major markets like Toronto and Vancouver may be more likely to let their guard down when they are desperate to find a place and have been looking for a long time.

His tips for staying safe include:

  • Never give cash or e-transfer money. Insist on post-dated or certified cheques.
  • Be wary if the rent is low for the area.
  • Ask the person renting the unit for proof of ownership like a tax or utility bill.
  • Talk to neighbours and ask how long the owner has been in the neighbourhood. 

With files from Michelle Cheung