New Toronto rental scams have emerged during the pandemic

Feb 17 2021, 1:57 pm

Toronto rental scams have been an issue in the city for years, but the pandemic has made way for a whole new batch of scams, according to police.

Constable Julie Campbell, a fraud investigator with 43 Division in Scarborough, says that there are three scams targeting tenants, landlords, and cottage goers that the Toronto public needs to be aware of.

The Toronto rental scams, Campbell told Daily Hive, appear to be cropping up across a variety of platforms including Facebook and Kijiji.

The first scam involves apartment hunters who reply to an ad for a unit that is “usually priced a bit less than one comparable.” The scammers behind these ads will say they can’t show the unit in-person due to COVID-19 and will then put a lot of pressure on the prospective tenant to send a deposit that day, saying they are getting a high level of interest in the apartment.

Closer to the scheduled move-in day, the scammer will send a request for the first and last month’s rent by e-transfer and once they have the money, “the tenant is then ghosted.” Some tenants will even drive to the unit they think they’ve rented only to learn it was never for rent in the first place.

To prevent yourself from falling victim to one of these scams, Campbell says that if a price seems too good to be true, it usually is.

“Always attempt to see a unit in person,” Campbell said. “You are also interviewing your new landlord. Be cautious of high pressure and the new landlord requiring little to no background checks.”

Another Toronto rental scam taking advantage of pandemic-induced restrictions is targeting the city’s landlords. Typically in these scams, landlords will receive a reply to an ad they’ve posted from someone who says they will take the unit but can’t see it in person due to quarantine. They will send the landlord an electric bank draft for first and last month’s rent.

The next day, the scammer will email the landlord saying they actually can’t take the unit, usually with a medical excuse, and will ask the landlord to e-transfer the money back but tell them to keep $500 for their trouble. The landlords will send the e-transfer only to learn that the original cheque bounced.

To prevent this, Campbell recommends landlords always try to meet tenants in person and allow any deposits 10 business days to clear.

And with demand for cottages in Ontario at an all-time high — and inventory hard to come by — scammers are targeting potential cottage goers. This was a “major issue” last summer when demand was similarly high.

“Scams always follow what is hard to get or current,” Campbell said.

Scammers will post an ad with a desirable cottage for a good price and request the full rent plus security deposit. With not going to view a cottage before renting it being the norm, victims will pay and then find out when they arrive for their stay that the cottage was never for rent.

One red flag to look out for is if everything else in the area is booked solid and it seems too good to be true, it probably is. These scammers will also typically want to communicate on third-party apps like Whatsapp and won’t do any kind of background check on you. Campbell also recommends renters use caution “when landlords don’t have a history or positive reviews on rental sites.”

Although Campbell is based in Scarborough, she says these scams are happening all around Toronto.

“There are 16 other stations with fraud investigators assigned,” Campbell said. “From speaking with my colleagues, I know these same types of scams are reported all over the city.”

Police are actively seeking out these scammers and making arrests, but unfortunately, there will always be more popping up.

“My partner and I arrest people every week, as do the other divisions, but we all know it’s only a drop in the bucket,” Campbell said.

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