A B.C. woman was forced to take her long-term rental unit off the market after a scammer stole her ad and swindled nearly 200 people on Vancouver Island.
Kara Prachnau, who lives in Greater Victoria, posted an ad to Kijiji in March to rent out her fully-furnished suite for $1,200, with wifi and hydro included in the price.
Within days, Prachnau received an email warning her that the same ad was posted to Craigslist, but for less than half the price.
“I prohibited the post, but the person just kept posting it again and again,” said Prachnau. “So I called the police, and they said someone would follow up, but they haven’t done anything about it yet.”
The unknown scammer used Prachnau’s photos with a similar write up in the Craigslist ad, except the scam said the suite was only $500 per month, and that she was “away in the UK”, so those interested could go and peek in the windows to see the suite.
“I had over 197 groups of people show up here, that I had never spoken with or been in contact of any kind,” Prachnau said.
“When I had to explain to all of them that they’d been scammed and would not be moving in, most were very understanding, but others got extremely angry and said I was the one scamming people.”
Prachnau added that multiple people had already paid the first month’s rent along with the damage deposit, and brought their personal belongings to the home, ready to move into the suite.
“I had one guy who got really angry, saying that was his home, he payed for it, and we could either do things the easy way or the hard way. I started to get really freaked out,” said Prachnau.
“And tons of people would peek through my windows just like the ad told them to.”
For about a week, people were steadily showing up to Prachnau’s house and she had to give the same speech.
“It got to the point where I felt threatened, and I had to go stay with a friend for a couple days. It was incredibly stressful and I wouldn’t wish that situation upon anyone,” said Prachnau.
Eventually Prachnau decided to remove her suite from the long-term market, and is now renting it as a vacation suite on Airbnb.
“I will never post an ad for my suite on Kijiji or any website like that again. On Airbnb there is a lot more verification required of a person before they can even contact me to rent,” said Prachnau.
Too good to be true
Following this incident, Prachnau stressed how important it is for people to go and see a rental unit before they send any money.
“If they don’t ask for references, only talk to you over e-mail, or don’t let you inside to see the suite, something is probably wrong,” said Prachnau. “And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Better Business Bureau (BBB) said this type of scam has been going on for several years across all provinces on websites like Craigslist and Kijiji.
Aldyne Kerrigan, Operations Manager for BBB on Vancouver Island, said if an ad for a rental unit is in a great location, with beautiful stock photos, extra amenities, has absent owners, and the rent seems too low for the market, it is likely a scam.
“We recommend searching online for the listings, or the scammer’s email address or phone number. If you find the same ad being posted and located in other cities then you can be sure it’s a scam,” said Kerrigan, adding that you should never send money to someone for an apartment you’ve never seen, and to always make sure you are dealing with the owner of a property or an authorized representative.
“If you can’t verify the details then walk away.”
If you think you have identified a scam, you can tag the ad, and Kijijji or Craigslist will remove it. You can also contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, or your local RCMP.