Last week, a social media user felt the need to post in a local property rental group warning others never to pay money up front before seeing a potential rental unit. In the current day and age, such a warning really is necessary and is a sign of a good neighbour. Can anyone imagine the same warning being necessary 10-20 years ago?
It’s easy to assume that people are becoming more naïve, which makes them logical targets for scammers. One popular one-liner joke that circulates online frequently is this: “If you think you are smarter than the previous generation… 50 years ago the owner’s manual of a car showed you how to adjust the valves. Today it warns you not to drink the contents of the battery.” Jokes aside, I don’t think people are becoming more naïve, I think they are just getting more desperate.
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, run by the Government of Canada, Canadians lost $490 million to fraud in 2022 as of November 30 (meaning the number would have been even higher at the end of the year). In 2021, the total loss to fraud was $383 million. It appears that fraud is on the rise. Imagine what could be done with all that money. The hungry could be fed, the homeless could be housed, and the sick could be treated more efficiently. Instead, this money is buying lavish houses and cars and other unneeded items for those who simply don’t deserve them.
One scam that is relatively new is the basic real estate scam. It is not hard for scammers to obtain genuine photos of rental properties. After all, these photos are usually taken by property owners and posted online whenever a unit goes up for rent, so they can easily be saved by scammers when a unit is available and stored away for future use. These photos are then re-posted at a later date with a false message that the unit is available. The scammer asks for a deposit to be sent before the unit can be seen and of course, that money is never seen again unless the scammer is caught.
Before judging those who are willing to e-transfer a sight unseen deposit for a rental property, remember that housing is currently in high demand and unattainable for many, and scammers have the luxury of offering great deals on housing since they don’t have to come good for them. Anyone who has ever felt the pressure of competing with others to swoop in and secure a place to live, while multiple others are vying for the same place, knows that a lapse in judgement is understandable.
The most common advice when it comes to avoiding scams is probably also the simplest – when something seems too good to be true, it likely is. Don’t give deposits sight unseen. Don’t provide personal information to someone whose identity can’t be easily and firmly verified. Use common sense when it comes to scammer tactics. Think a scam can’t happen to you? It has already happened to many of those around you – to the tune of $490 million. Let’s lower the 2023 statistic.