After a 15-month investigation led by London-based RCMP that concluded in December, police charged five Windsor-area residents with defrauding at least 45 people in cottage rental scams in 2014.
Young families, couples and groups of friends of all ages from across Canada fell for the scam. They booked dreamy cottages through classified websites as such Kijiji and Craigslist – often paying upfront at an average cost of $1,200 per week – and headed to places in Haliburton and Muskoka.
Though the location could be reached by GPS or an online map, when the renters arrived the cottage either didn’t exist or wasn’t for rent. That’s when the person who had been the main rental contact via email would stop all communication.
To learn more details about this case, read full The Observer.ca article “Police Bust Fraudulent Cottage Industry, Five Charged” here: http://www.theobserver.ca/2015/12/15/buyer-beware-when-booking-cottages-online
Although bewildering, it isn’t surprising that online scams are penetrating the Muskoka rental market. With more and more people finding accommodation through online services, scammers have learned how to take advantage of prospective renters. Jayne’s Cottages cautions our guests against the two most prevalent rental accommodation scams – Hijacked Ads and Phantom Rentals.
Hijacked Ads are when a scammer modifies an existing ad and replaces the original contact information with their own details and reposts the ad on another site. Scammers can also go so far as to hack the e-mail accounts of an existing real estate company or property owner and communicate with guests by these means. Hackers may even set up fake Twitter or Facebook accounts to further deceive renters.
Phantom Rentals, on the other hand, are listings of properties that are not actually for rent, or posting a property that does not exist. Scammers hope to procure payment from you before you notice the error.
Jayne’s Cottages protects our guests and cottage owners against Hijacked Ads by investing in specialized Property Management software that detects any fraudulent activity, such as “phishing” or “brand spoofing”. The software is highly sensitive to any suspicious activity and scans the Internet to detect fraudulent listings of its clients’ properties. Jayne’s Cottages also welcomes Guests to meet her in Muskoka to view the cottage before renting it to ensure that it meets the guest’s needs as well. Furthermore, she communicates and greets all guests at the day of arrival, so there is never any doubt in mind.
However, as much as we would like to shelter our guests against all scams, many operate freely of vacation rental platforms. Please read on to see Jayne’s Cottages approved tips to avoid falling victim to rental scams in Muskoka and beyond.
- Opt for a Vacation Rental Platform that Offers Insurance. If renting in Ontario, ensure that the rental platform is registered with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO). When you purchase your travel services from a TICO registered travel agency (like Jayne’s Cottages) you are protected by an industry financed Travel Compensation Fund.
- Asking For a Wire Transfer. The first and most glaringly obvious sign of a rental scam is when a renter wants you to wire money, possibly as a security deposit or application fee. Wiring money is the same as sending cash, with no way to get it back once it’s sent. The safest way to transfer money is by credit card because they offer purchase protection. If goods or services are not delivered you can get a refund from your credit card.
- Too Good To Be True. The fact of the matter is that if it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. Some red flags to watch out for are rental rates significantly below market value for an area or not asking for a signed contract. Do your research on average rental rates and use caution if you find a listing significantly under average. That being said, don’t allow this information to let you become jaded.
- No Pictures Or Addresses. A glaring warning sign for a potential scam is when an ad has no photographs or addresses. Again, not every ad without an address is going to be a scam, but always ask for more details before signing anything or sending any money. Ask the owner for detailed information on the property’s location and surroundings. Check Google Maps to confirm the information provided is accurate, as well to confirm an address if one is provided.
- Suspicious E-mail Usage. If a renter’s e-mail address is odd-looking or uses a string of unintelligible characters, take a closer look before closing any deals. Likewise, if the listing employs poor grammar or uses non-standard English, it could be computer generated or posted by someone overseas. Use caution if you detect either of the above.
- Out Of The Country. This common trick should raise concern. Like the rest of the suspicious activity on this list: if you can’t see the property, meet the landlord, or sign any kind of document before exchanging money, do not engage in a rental agreement or send money.
- Use Trusted Vacation Rental Sites. Rather than renting from classified sites, such as Kijiji or Craigslist, seek out trusted vacation rental platforms like Jayne’s Cottage. Platforms that encourage two-way communication, offer clearly written contracts and payments by credit card can typically be trusted.
Remember, don’t let scammers give you negative feelings towards finding your dream vacation rental online. Your perfect cottage is waiting for you, just use caution finding it. Please contact Jayne’s Cottages at any time to learn more about how to avoid rental scams or how we are protecting our guests and cottages owners. Jayne’s Cottages is extremely concerned about our guests’ and cottage owners well-being, and we will continue to advise on tips for avoiding rental scams in the future.