PORT MCNEILL—Losing money to an apartment scammer may be the least of the worries for a young couple that was victimized, say police.
Josh Altizer, 24, and his girlfriend, 17-year-old Sidney Parker, sold off most of their possessions from their Port McNeill residence in an effort to finance a trip to Courtenay, where they planned to study before leaving the country to teach English as a second language.
The couple searched Craigslist — a popular buy/sell/trade Internet site — to find an apartment and believed they discovered the perfect place.
“When I showed interest, (the scammer) forwarded an application and I filled out all my references and information and, later, it appeared he was contacting my references,” recalled Altizer.
The next day the couple heard back from the “landlord” who told them they’d been approved for the rental.
“He said the apartment had been trashed by the last tenants and he was just looking for someone who was trustworthy,” Altizer said.
The young couple originally sent the con man $350 via email Interac transfer as a damage deposit. “That’s all we had at the time,” said Altizer.
Over the course of the next several days, the couple managed to scrape together another $650 for the rent.
“I tried to email it to him and he said no, and gave me all his bank information so I did a deposit that way.”
A day later, the landlord contacted Altizer and said the key to the apartment and all the necessary documents would be mailed to the couple as soon as he received the rent.
“Then he contacted me again to tell me he’d need another $350 to insure the package he was going to send,” said Altizer, who noted the scammer told him all the previous money had been used to pay a mortgage bill.
“He did tell me the $350 would be refunded once I got the key, of course.”
Altizer refused to send more and had to admit he’d been bilked.
“The lady at the bank told me it’s a pretty common scam nowadays,” he said, “but what a horrible thing to do to somebody.”
Parker made a plea for donations through her Facebook page and while the couple tries to figure out a next move, police said the pilfered cash may only be the beginning of their troubles.
“Other than the loss of money, I think (Altizer) gave up a bunch of information about himself that can probably be used down the road if this (scammer) ever wanted to start impersonating him,” said Port McNeill RCMP Sgt. Phil Lue.
“I looked through the information (Altizer) gave to my officer and he sent nearly all his personal identification to this guy.”
Lue said he reckons several people may have looked at the ad, became suspicious and passed.
Yet scammers know it only takes one person to answer the ad.
“It’s like fishing, even if you have bad bait sooner or later you’re going to catch something,” said Lue.
The seasoned officer said he’s not unsympathetic to what happened to he couple, but it could have been avoided.
“Josh was kind of remiss in being vigilant before sending money,” he said.
“It’s hard not to be trusting unless this kind of thing has happened to you before, but from a police point of view we would like to see people do their due diligence.”
In this case, Lue said at the very least the couple should have asked a friend or acquaintance to drive by the property.
“That way you’ll know if the address even exists,” he said.
“The key here is don’t be too quick to part with your money and you want to make sure you’re going to get what you’re paying for.”
Sadly, Lue said most of the time it’s near impossible to catch the scammers.
“The people who do this on a regular basis, the guys who are good at this, create false identities for themselves, or they’ve stolen someone else’s identity and they’re using that,” he said.
“And how much does it cost the scammers to list an ad on Craigslist? Nothing.”
A quick search on Google using “apartment rental scams” produced more than
16 million hits — most concerned with how to avoid being scammed.
The problem is so prevalent Craigslist is now considering charging for the ads in an attempt to ward off scammers.
Tips for avoiding apartment rental scams
• Ask to see the landlord’s ID — record all the information you can from it.
• Use a browser to search for the person’s name who you’re dealing with. Be sure to add quotes around their name. You could add the words “fraud” or “scam” at the end of your search terms.
• Use reverse directory look up if the person has given you their
telephone number. It’s important to double check that they are who they
say they are.
• Visit the local county courthouse to look up property ownership
for the apartment in question. Who really owns it? Is it the person
you’re dealing with? Or someone else?
• Scan any provided photographs carefully. Do they match up with
what you’ve seen in person? Do they look like they all came from the same
• They don’t ask for an application or permission to check your
credit? That’s a red flag!
• Considering the current state of our economy and the rise in
foreclosures, ask the landlord if they’re current on their mortgage
payments, and then get their answer in writing.
•Consider using another method for obtaining a rental, i.e. real
estate agent, going through a rental agency, etc…