K-W rental scam: 36 victims lose over $30,000

A Stouffville man has been charged in connection to a Kitchener-Waterloo rental scam that police say defrauded at least 36 victims out of more than $30,000.

Waterloo regional police arrested the man on April 30 after an investigation into fake property rental ads.

Over the course of four months, between November 2021 and February 2022, fake advertisements for rental properties in Kitchener and Waterloo were posted to a buy and sell website, police said in a media release.

The accused communicated with prospective renters via email, text, phone and WhatsApp, before requesting they sign a lease agreement and send a down payment by e-transfer to secure the rental.

In some cases the poster would ghost the victim, and in other instances the victim would show up ready to move in, only to find out the lease wasn’t valid.

The 46-year-old Stouffville man that police believe is behind the scam is now charged with defrauding the public, uttering forged documents, three counts of personation, laundering proceeds of crime, possession of identity document and possession of a counterfeit stamp.

POLICE BELIEVE THERE MAY BE MORE VICTIMS

While a total of 36 victims have been identified as of May 1, police believe there may be others.

Investigators are encouraging anyone who believes they were a victim of the scam to reach out to police.

“We can always seek restitution through the court process," Const. Melissa Quarrie told CTV News. "So that’s one way victims of these scams could potentially receive their money back, and also prevent this from happening to other folks in our community. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon fraud that we see around the community and around the province." 

Police advise potential renters to confirm the identity of the person they’re speaking with and never send funds unless they’ve had the chance to see the property in person.

ONE RENTERS STORY

One renter spoke to CTV News about an experience that felt "fishy" to her and separate from the investigation by Waterloo regional police.

Julie McIntyre said she had been having a tough time finding a place to rent in Kitchener or Waterloo. After months of looking, she spotted an online ad for a one-bedroom unit near Victoria Park for $1,200 all-inclusive.

McIntyre felt it was too good to be true.

She said she was asked for money upfront, before she saw the place on Heins Ave. in person.

McIntyre sent CTV News the e-mail response she got back from the person who said they were the owner of the unit.

The e-mail reads, in part: "You will need to read/sign the rental contract form while a down payment (security deposit $1200) will be made in order to finalize the contract and reserve the room for nobody but YOU... As I only deal on a first come first serve basis cos there are some other candidates showing interest to rent the property."

McIntyre said she was told that "it will be safe with them and will be refundable if there was a problem going through with it."

She cancelled the viewing that had been booked over the weekend and said she would continue to look for another place to rent.

McIntyre said the online post no longer exists online and she has not reported her experience to police.

CTV News did reach out to the person from the e-mail, who claimed to be the property owner, but they did not reply to our request for comment.