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Rental scam: no room for error


August 16, 2018 – OTTAWA, ON – Competition Bureau

It’s peak moving season. Students are leaving the nest; parents are helping them find the right place. Beware: if a rental listing looks too good to be true, it probably is. School might not have started yet, but do your homework and learn to recognize rental scams.

In a typical rental scam, fraudsters will entice you with a very attractive listing: sought after area, great amenities and low price. Ads will be posted on popular sites like Kijiji or Facebook. Scammers may use photos from an old listing, from a house that’s up for sale, or from short-term rental sites like Airbnb, to make it look authentic. They pose as the landlord and may claim to be abroad and unable to meet in person to show you inside the place.

After a few emails or text messages, they will start asking for money. 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. They can even try to rush you into a decision by saying that others are also interested in the property. Don’t give in. It could be a scam.

Here are some warning signs to look out for when shopping 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

Here’s what you can do 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.

If you’ve been the victim of a rental scam or another type of fraud, or if you have information about this type of scam, report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (1-888-495-8501), the RCMP or your local police.

This consumer alert was created in collaboration with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.