The Kingston Police Fraud Unit said they have recently been assigned investigations pertaining to cottage rental scams being perpetrated in our region.
Ads for these fraudulent vacations have been posted on free classified websites such as Kijiji, and Marketplace. According to a release from Kingston Police, the scammers take photos of cottages that have been posted in legitimate ads elsewhere and create fake ads and accounts utilizing these pictures. Police say victims reach out to the scammers, believing that they are legitimate cottage and property owners, and are then tricked into sending a down payment, either via e-transfer or through a money transfer service to an overseas destination.
Kingston Police provide the following advice to individuals looking to rent a cottage this upcoming season:
If you are planning to rent a cottage, rent one through a business that specializes in cottage rentals. They are less likely to scam you as their business reputation is on the line. Some businesses also will rebook a customer into a new place of greater or equal value, or if unavailable will refund the payment.
Tripadvisor, Google, Yelp, Air BnB and other major websites make use of guest reviews to let you know what you are walking into. Always do your research. Don’t always trust hand written reviews shown on websites that have no real names or faces behind them. It’s very easy for someone to type “This cottage was amazing – Ben” or “Thank you so much for the amazing rental – Samantha”. Only trust reviews from creditable sources.
Obtain as much contact information as you can
Many scams can be avoided by simply talking on the phone. Scam artists love to hide behind their computer keyboards. If you can call and speak to a real person each time, you are far less likely to be duped as most scam artists would prefer to hide behind a computer screen in the shadows. Make sure to get a full name, phone numbers, email address, and location of the rental.
Avoid renting from people with free email accounts
Most scams occur when communicating over email, and the account is free. It’s very easy for scam artists to delete an email account once it has been used, and create another free one again to defraud the next unsuspecting victim. Be very careful when communicating with people with accounts from @hotmail, @gmail, @yahoo and other popular free services.
Use a credit card – Avoid E-Transfers and direct deposits
Paying for a vacation rental with a credit card is a very safe method of payment. Your credit card company will often protect you against any purchases that are fraudulent and it is very hard for scam artists to continue to operate when they accept credit cards for payments as it can be very easily traced. Bank to bank transfers are also not the best idea unless you know for sure that the person you are booking from is trustworthy.
Ask to see the property in person
It may be difficult, especially if you are travelling from out of town, but asking to see the property in person is another way to reduce your chances of being scammed. Many scam artists will use excuses or completely avoid talking to you anymore if you request to see the property. Even simply asking the question may be able to offer you more concrete insight in regards to the legitimacy of the ad and whether or not it may be fraudulent.
Too good to be true
Have you ever found a rental property where the price is just too good to pass up? Scam artists prey on desperation and there is no better way to spark this feeling inside of you then when you see a gorgeous spot for an incredible price and feel like you just have to have it. Resist these urges because, as police often warn, if a deal seems too good to be true it likely is.
Avoid high pressure sales tactics
One of the most common high pressure sales tactics used by scammers is “If you don’t book now, it will simply get taken by someone else”. This of course seems fairly obvious. If their property can so easily be rented to someone else, then why are the scammers so worried and committed to renting it to only you? When the owner seems desperate, it’s generally not a good sign and could indicate that the posting is a scam.