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‘So dirty’: Burnaby bait-and-switch rental scam dupes dad helping son find a home

Son moved in to find a roommate landlord didn't mention
Glacier Media file photo

COVID-19 has made people much more cautious about doing anything in person.

It’s also been a bit of a gold mine for scammers who use people’s health concerns to pull fast ones in a variety of areas.

Like rental housing.

Thomas, a Calgary resident, says his son – who is attending BCIT in Burnaby - is now stuck in a bad rental situation after a scummy landlord pulled a bait-and-switch scam on the family.

Thomas had been looking all summer at Burnaby rentals near BCIT, but found most of them were too expensive for what they offered (welcome to the Metro Vancouver rental market, sir, it’s wild stuff).

Then one day he found a place near Lougheed SkyTrain station that was far away from the school, but at least on a transit line.

“The photos looked really good,” Thomas said. “It was a one-bedroom basement suite that was older but in good shape. And the rent was really affordable compared to other places I saw. It was supposed to be just for my son in the suite. The truth turned out differently.”

Thomas arranged everything by remote and put down a deposit. But when his son arrived to pick up the keys, the situation was different. First of all, the place didn’t look at all like the photos. Oh, and there was another person living in the basement suite, which was actually two bedrooms.

“It was so dirty and dark,” said Thomas, who was horrified after his son sent him photos of the place. “My son was confused that someone else was living there too. But he’s shy and so he just accepted it. He was afraid to tell me until the next day … I finally got the person I rented it from to call me back and they said that they got a ‘better offer’ on the place in the original photos. He said ‘take it or leave it.’ We didn’t really have a choice. I don’t even know if the original photos were real. The whole thing could be made up. So I’ve been looking during the past few months to find a new place for my son. There are legal remedies I could take, but it’s so hard to deal with the situation because I’m in another city.”

Police have discussed such scams in the past, including a landlord answering the renter’s response to the ad and telling the renter he/she lives overseas. The landlord often reassures the renter by providing copies of their passport and/or driver’s license (which are most often believed to be fraudulent). Once the renter has transferred money by internet e-transfer, money order/wire, Bitcoin and other means, the landlord will stop contact.

To better protect yourself from this type of scam:

  • Use a reputable renting website or go to the property management office itself;
  • Conduct an internet search on the address, see if anything suspicious is found;
  • If the rental price is too good to be true – it’s likely a fraud;
  • Don’t make a deposit in cash, cash is not traceable;
  • Don’t wire money, wire transfers are extremely hard to cancel and trace;
  • Don’t give out personal information like your S.I.N number, bank account or credit card;
  • Make sure you are speaking with the landowner or property manager;
  • Ask the surrounding neighbours about the landowner and property history (neighbours should be able to tell you who lives next door and if they are the owner or not)

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.