Shannon Shaw, like many B.C. renters, was getting desperate in her hunt for a home when she became the victim of a sophisticated rental scam.
The 23-year-old home care aid was looking for an affordable place on the West Shore for herself, her cat and her dog, a 45-pound border collie/hound cross.
So when she came across a Craigslist ad for a one-bedroom garden suite that allowed pets and charged $1,000 per month, she immediately sent an email to the poster.
“It was $1,000 inclusive, pet friendly, it was like, ‘I can’t miss out on this opportunity,” she recalled.
The ad didn’t have photos, but said ‘will add pictures very soon.’ The pictures never went up, but that didn’t faze Shaw, who had successfully rented a unit with a picture-less Craigslist ad in the past.
The poster described a one-bedroom suite in the Bear Mountain community that could be “totally furnished upon request.”
|Shannon Shaw responded to this ad for a rental suite in the Bear Mountain community. The poster turned out to be a fraudster posing as a landlord, and the suite itself a vacation rental. (Courtesy of Shannon Shaw)|
“Have reference information,” the post read, “What’s your life story in a short sentence?” And then: “Single mothers, students, working pros, and everybody else in between apply!”
Shaw communicated with the poster for about a week, trying to set up a viewing time. Eventually they worked out a day, and she came by to view the ground-floor suite, connected to a larger home. She met her new “landlord,” a man she describes as “high-energy and eccentric” outside the house, and he keyed in a code to give her tour.
The ad said the suite could come furnished, so Shaw asked if there was an extra fee for having the furniture removed.
She said he pulled back the cushion on the couch to show her the wear and tear.
“He’s like, ‘it’s torn right here, it’s torn all across the other side, I’ve been looking for a reason to get rid of it,’” she recalled. “He had inspected this suite he was renting and he knew it inside out.”
Shaw had a weird feeling about the man and asked her mother and a friend to come with her when she signed the lease. She paid a damage deposit of $500, a pet deposit of $500 and $1,000 for the first month’s rent.
But soon after, as the move-in date loomed, her new “landlord” started avoiding her texts and postponing her move-in date.
On May 1, she went to the unit and found it locked, with blinds down over the windows. Because it was the ground-floor suite of a house, she and her mother went up to the front door of the home.
A young boy answered and looked confused when she asked about the rental unit below.
By then she knew she wasn’t getting the unit, but her money was long gone.
Soon after filing a complaint with RCMP, Shaw learned that the suite she had “rented” was actually a VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) unit, and had never been available.
The man she dealt with had rented the suite through VRBO and put an ad for it on Craigslist, posing as the landlord.
And Shaw had responded.
“I felt stupid,” she said. “I felt really, really dumb because I did have that weird feeling in the beginning, in my gut.”
Shaw is able to stay in her current rental for another month, but says the situation could have been far worse.
“I made out OK, I’m all right, I’m still on my feet but it could have been someone in a lot worse of a situation,” she said. “It could have been a single mom or a single dad with a kid….It could have been somebody who had nothing and wasn’t able to stay at the place they were at, and all the sudden were homeless.
That’s what was so heartbreaking for me.”
West Shore RCMP cannot confirm names involved with complaints, but did confirm that it is currently investigating a report of rental fraud.