Apartment rental scams on the rise during pandemic, Toronto police say

TORONTO — When you rent an apartment you may be asked to pay first and last month’s rent in advance, but you need to make sure that you are paying it to the right person.

Toronto Police say rental scams are causing both tenants and landlords to lose money and some criminals are trying to rent out apartments they don’t even own.

“I was living in a house with a friend in Scarborough and he is getting married so I had to go out and find a new place to live,” said Tyler Sarry.

Sarry found an apartment on Kijiji and went to visit the property.

When he went to view the unit, there were two people there: one who claimed to be the landlord and the other who said they they were outgoing tenant.

Sarry agreed to take the unit and was told to e-transfer $2,500 to hold the apartment.

But Sarry said not long after that he noticed some issues with the rental contract. He said he felt uneasy about the deal and then discovered the unit was actually rented out through Airbnb.

“There were people who rented the unit through Airbnb for a few days or a week and they acted like they owned the unit,” said Sarry. “Then they would rent it out long term.”

Sarry said he contacted his bank to stop the e-transfer, but it was too late.

“I would hope that there is something that they could do at this point, but right now they are saying I sent the money and it’s gone. It disappeared,” said Sarry.

Const. Julie Campbell with Toronto Police 43 Division’s Fraud Squad said that rental scams have been rampant during the pandemic.

”Obviously anyone can print off a rental application from the internet,” said Campbell.

Often thieves will use COVID-19 as a reason a rental unit can’t be viewed in person, she added.

“They may say ‘I’m the landlord and I can’t show you the place because of COVID.’ ‘I’m in quarantine’ or because ‘I’m a long-distance truck driver,’ but they will say it’s such a good deal, you have to send an e-transfer now if you want to hold it,” said Campbell.

Campbell advises anyone looking at a unit to search the address in Google and watch out for any other red flags. Police say often rental scams may have a price that seems to good to be true and there is usually pressure to act fast.

Police said they were able to make an arrest in Sarry’s case, but the $2,500 has not been recovered. Sarry is a personal trainer who said he’s been unable to work consistently due to the pandemic.

“Hopefully there are not more people in the middle of the pandemic trying to do this to people” said Sarry.

If COVID-19 restrictions permit, many people may be starting to think about their summer holidays. However, much like the scam that victimized Sarry, cottage rental scams are also expected to be a big problem this year.

Be careful you don’t send money to someone to rent a cottage that may not be theirs or even exist. 

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