• By Finsok
  • 15 Jan, 2023

  • 17 min read

Beware of Scams in Tough London Rental Market: Watchdog

Beware of Scams in Tough London Rental Market: Watchdog

Tight rental markets like London’s have become fertile ground for scammers, with a watchdog group warning Canadians were swindled out of more than $670,000 last year.

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Narrow rental markets like in London have become fertile ground for scammers, with a watchdog group warning that Canadians were scammed out of more than $670,000 last year in rental fraud.

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In 2022, the Canadian Fraud Center investigated 734 cases in which victims lost a total of $675,679.

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But the overall losses are likely much larger because less than five percent of cases are reported to authorities, said Geoff Horncastle, a spokesman for an agency that collects information about fraud and identity theft.

“Given that the market is so tight, with so much demand and not enough supply, this poses a problem,” he said.

In London, average rents have skyrocketed, doubling in just six years.

The average asking price for a two-bedroom apartment, for example, was $2,153 in December, according to Rentals.ca, a website that homeowners use to advertise apartments.

According to Horncastle, scammers are using these terms to take advantage of people looking for low-cost apartments by creating false listings offering apartments at below-market prices.

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“They know people, if they see an apartment or a house for rent at a lower price, they will try to grab it,” he said.

London resident Yojaira Quintero says she nearly fell victim to the tactic after she came across a Facebook post showing a two-bedroom apartment near north London’s Sunningdale for just $1,700.

“I looked at the photos and saw that this is a really nice apartment for a very good price, so I decided to ask if it was available,” she said.

After making contact and filling out an application, Quintero said she was told she was approved. Then, citing high demand, the alleged owner asked for a $1,000 deposit to secure the apartment.

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According to her, she began to feel that something was wrong when the owner did not agree to the time to show them the apartment.

“The guy told me he couldn’t show it to us because he wasn’t in the country after he had to move to the US for work and that was…. . . why he rented an apartment,” she said.

When she searched for the post later that day, she said it had already been deleted.

“To date, we don’t even know the number of the apartment we were supposed to rent.”

Horncastle said below-market rents being requested and refusal to show property are major red flags that potential buyers should be on the lookout for to avoid being scammed.

Real landlords “will use the market value to try and maximize the income they can get,” he said.

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People should also be wary of properties listed twice on the platform, Horncastle said, as scammers often copy or steal photos from other listings for houses or apartments. They will also try to use any personal information obtained from potential tenants to obtain fraudulent credit cards or cell lines.

“Most importantly, trust your instincts,” Horncastle said. “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

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TIPS TO AVOID RENTAL FRAUD

  • Never pay with untraceable methods such as Bitcoin, cash or bank transfer. Instead, consider personal checks, money orders, bank checks, or certified checks.
  • Never rent a look invisible. Arrange a personal viewing of the property with the landlord. Before signing a lease, make sure that the property matches the advertisements on the Internet.
  • Meet with the landlord face to face to make sure the rent is not a scam. If the landlord apologizes to avoid the meeting, be careful.
  • Do not provide sensitive information such as Social Security Number (SIN) or banking information that could be used for identity theft. The landlord may conduct a credit check by providing only your full name, current address, and date of birth.
  • Be wary of low market rental rates. If the rent seems too low to be true, it probably is. Don’t send money without doing your own thorough research.

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