Three separate rental scams on Kijiji have been reported to police in Red Deer since March 25.
“Three times since March 25 raises some red flags that perhaps this is something that’s starting to trend more in Red Deer,” said Red Deer City RCMP Cpl. Sarah Knelsen on Tuesday.
“We can’t take down ads on Kijiji. All we can do is warn the public on how to be safe and how to avoid becoming a victim of this kind of type of scam.”
Two of the houses listed on the online classified advertisement site were actually for sale and the other house was located in Red Deer but listed a Calgary address. None of them were available for rent.
Scammers copy information from online listings of homes for sale and present them as rental opportunities.
When contacted by potential tenants, the rental scammers claim to be out of the country and instruct victims to send the damage deposit and first month’s rent through an untraceable wire transfer service, such as Moneygram or Western Union. Victims are told they will be sent the keys once the money is received.
Some scammers also ask victims to fill out rental applications that request personal information that could be used for identity theft and other financial fraud.
Knelson said one victim did lose money in the recent scams.
“Once the scammer received the money, he then advised the victim to contact the real estate agent that the house was listed through. The real estate agent had no idea what was going on.”
Here are some safety tips when looking to rent:
l If you can’t view the inside of the place, don’t put down a deposit.
l Be cautious if the price seems low for the size and location. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
l If the photos look professional or appear to be model homes, they may have been copied from a real estate website. Also be cautious if the photos are very low resolution or of little relevance, for example, showing only the bathroom. That may indicate the person claiming to be the owner doesn’t have access to the inside of the home.
l If you’re looking at rental ads, be leery of long, flowery descriptions and lists of features; these are more likely to be copied from realtor listings of houses for sale. Descriptions of roof and furnace repairs are also a flag as they aren’t relevant to renters.
l Steer clear of ads that ask you to respond with information such as your age, occupation, income, gender, bank information or social insurance number.
RCMP want to remind the public that increased vigilance is necessary as scammers continue to find creative ways to victimize trusting people. To learn how to protect yourself and the vulnerable people in your life, visit www.antifraudcentre.ca.
“People will try these scams anywhere to see if they can get victims,” Knelsen said.
Kijiji also has a “Staying Safe on Kijiji” section on their website with tips for detecting scammers, including examples of scammer emails.