Lo­cal woman susses out rental scam

Nar­rowly avoids los­ing $1,600 to fake home­owner

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY MELISSA JENK­INS

A Bay Roberts woman has learned from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence that if some­thing sounds too good to be true, it prob­a­bly is.

Lisa Jones, a sin­gle mother, posted an ad on ki­jiji.ca look­ing for a new place to live with her nine-year-old daugh­ter.

It wasn’t long be­fore she was con­tacted by some­one say­ing they had a so­lu­tion to her prob­lem.

“Some­one replied… claim­ing to own a house in Bay Roberts… stat­ing they live in On­tario,” Jones said.

The email, which was sent on March 20, had a few gram­mat­i­cal er­rors in it, but she only had a month to find a place and thought she’d give her po­ten­tial land­lord the ben­e­fit of the doubt. The price was good and the lo­ca­tion was close to her daugh­ter’s school.

“Avail­able now. We are great land­lord (sic). Look­ing for a re­spon­si­ble, neat, queit (sic) and non-party ten­ant for our two-bed­room house in St. John’s area. It cost $800, in­clude all util­i­ties. Pet friendly home. Con­tact us (land­lord) di­rectly on email. Thanks,” the re­sponse from “Jes­sica Ben­son” said.

Pho­tos were sent to Jones, which in­cluded pic­tures of the bed­room, bath­room and other rooms. The per­son also sent a photo of a cou­ple, claim­ing it was Jes­sica and her hus­band.

The Compass found most of the pho­tos of those rooms were used else­where on Craigslist for other re­ported rental scams, with the bath­room photo also ap­pear­ing on a list­ing in Water­loo, Ont.

Through the emails, Jones was asked to fill out an ap­pli­ca­tion, which in­cluded her full name, cur­rent ad­dress, phone num­ber, oc­cu­pa­tion, birth­date, ref­er­ences and other ques­tions.

They also asked for a bank draft and the sign­ing of a rental agree­ment. She was asked to send the first and last months’ rent, a to­tal of $1,600, in the bank draft. She didn’t send the money.

“It’s a lot of money up front,” Jones said.

Tak­ing a look

The per­son send­ing the emails re­fused to let her see the in­side of the house un­til the money was paid and an ap­pli­ca­tion was filled out.

In the emails, she was given the ad­dress and took a drive by with a friend. It was then that Jones re­al­ized she knew the per­son that lived in the home.

“When I drove by the lo­ca­tion they gave me, my friend told me that it be­longed to a gen­tle­man I knew was good friends with my pop,” Jones ex­plained.

She be­gan to get sus­pi­cious of the email and called her grand­mother, who con­firmed the man still lived there. So she looked up his phone num­ber and con­tacted him.

The home­owner told her there were rental scams on the news re­cently and that she may have been con­tacted by one of those scam­mers.

“If I didn’t know the man that lived there, and was in des­per­ate need of a place, I would have lost $1,600,” Jones said.

Although she was aware of the sit­u­a­tion, she kept in con­tact with the per­son, in hope that they would be held re­spon­si­ble for the scam.

Try­ing to get help

Jones ini­tially called Crime Stop­pers and re­ferred her to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Cen­tre (CAFC), a repos­i­tory for fraud in­for­ma­tion.

There are many types of fraud re­ports that the CAFC re­ceives, in­clud­ing for rentals, win­ning a lot­tery or sweep­stakes con­test, fake in­her­i­tance and false char­i­ties col­lect­ing money. They also re­ceive re­ports from those duped by an on­line re­la­tion­ship scam, Ponzi schemes and emer­gency fraud.

A CAFC voice record­ing di­rected Jones to con­tact po­lice. She even­tu­ally got in touch with the RCMP. Staff Sgt. Greg Hicks of the Trinity Con­cep­tion de­tach­ment told The Compass how the RCMP typ­i­cally han­dles a fraud case.

“We will take their re­port and doc­u­ment it. As many of th­ese scams are com­ing from any num­ber of places around the globe, the Anti-Fraud Cen­tre is a good way to en­sure that the scam is doc­u­mented for ap­pro­pri­ate fol­low up … If the is­sue is lo­cal we will in­ves­ti­gate and fol­low up ac­cord­ingly. Fur­ther, if we can iden­tify where the sus­pect is op­er­at­ing from, we would no­tify the lo­cal po­lice in that area,” he ex­plained.

Jones wants oth­ers to be aware that this isn’t just hap­pen­ing in St. John’s. Peo­ple are get­ting tar­geted ev­ery­where now.

“You wouldn’t think this could hap­pen (in Bay Roberts),” she said. “Every­body kind of knows each other, it’s a small place.”

The RCMP do ad­vise peo­ple to re­port fraud, but also to be care­ful when deal­ing with peo­ple on­line or over the phone.

“It can be very frus­trat­ing for vic­tims, which is why so much ef­fort has been put into no­ti­fy­ing the public to be vig­i­lant,” Hicks ex­plained.

That’s ex­actly what Jones will be do­ing, since she is still look- ing for a place to live be­fore May 1. If you can help Jones and her daugh­ter, she can be reached at lisa7jones@hot­mail.com.

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