A Mission woman is sounding the alarm over a rental scam on Craigslist trying to swindle people out of a damage deposit and first month’s rent.
Wendy Obermiller was interested in renting a house in Abbotsford on Mendham Street, with her daughter and senior parents.
She contacted the apparent owner, someone going by the name of Sean Mckeag, who said the house was currently listed for sale on Remax but he and his wife have decided to rent it out instead.
‘Mckeag’ said that he wouldn’t be able to physically show her the interior, as he had recently moved to Cariboo, B.C., but would send her pictures from the realtor’s listing.
If she paid the damage deposit and first month’s rent, Obermiller would then be sent the keys and rental contract via UPS., according to her emails.
A rental application was then sent to her, along with a B.C. phone number.
Obermiller said she started questioning the listing’s legitimacy when she would receive calls and texts from the number telling her to “check her email.”
“Right away I was suspicious of him. And then we actually went to the house,” she said.
Obermiller and her father, Art, walked up to the front door and spoke with the actual owners who were doing a house showing. They told them about the scam, which came as a complete surprise as they were only trying to sell it, according to the Obermillers.
“The family was very upset,” Art said. “This is one of the better scams I’ve ever seen.”
Obermiller said she continued to communicate with the scammer, hoping to gather evidence to bring to the police.
“They stole the advertisement off a real-estate website. They took the pictures of the house and the inside of the house, and then they posted it to Craigslist,” she said. “And he keeps posting it on Craigslist.”
When the Obermillers brought the scam to the attention of the authorities, they said police told them the money needed to be transferred to the scammer for it to be considered fraud, and were told to contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).
“I fully understand, but it looks like it’s a continuing problem,” Art said.
They have attempted to notify the fraud centre, but said they have not received any communication back.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre’s website says rental scams typically try to entice renters with something “too good to be true,” and use photos from an old or active listing to make the scam look authentic.
The scammers pose as the landlord but claim to be abroad so they will be unable to meet in person, according to CAFC.
“First, they’ll try to get a security deposit, then, they’ll ask for the first month’s rent, and then another month’s rent in exchange for a discount,” says CAFC’s website. “They can even try to rush you into a decision by saying that others are also interested in the property.”
CAFC red flags when looking for a rental:
- the monthly rent is lower than other similar places
- you’re asked to leave a deposit without any formal rental agreement or lease in place
- you’re asked to send money to someone outside the country
- when you ask about the apartment, you get an email that sends you to a website asking for personal or financial information
- ads show pictures of the outside of the property only, or pictures that don’t match the actual property or address
CAFC tips on how to avoid being scammed:
- Go to the address, make sure the listing is truthful and accurate. If you are unable to go in person, use the Internet to see actual images of the rental.
- Research the address to ensure it is not a duplicate post. You may even conduct a reverse image search to see if the photos were used elsewhere.
- Schedule a showing and confirm that the landlord will be present.
- If you plan on renting in a new development, contact the builder to confirm ownership.
- Request a lease or contract. Review it thoroughly.
- Be sure to know your rights as a tenant. Consult your provincial or territorial department or ministry of housing.