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Beware the shady renters

Fraudulent renters plaguing Whistler housing listings

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It’s a familiar story for anyone seeking a place to live in Whistler.

You have a job lined up, your skis are packed on top of the car, and you’re ready to trawl the Sea to Sky Highway up to one of the world’s best resorts.

There’s just one problem — and it’s a big one – you don’t have a roof to sleep under once you get there.

Your first destination is the classified listings in the local papers. If that doesn’t work out, you might go to the websites — any one of the Pique , the Question and craigslist.org. You may find a listing that works for you, but it doesn’t take long before you find out that a thief or a fraudster is lurking behind a friendly façade.

That’s precisely the situation being faced by Adam Kerr, who’s looking to move to Whistler from Australia.

He spoke to Pique via e-mail and asked whether he should trust landlords who are asking for funds to be transferred from Australia to their bank accounts as a deposit.

Most deposits, he said, were in the vicinity of $8,000, which would include the first and last month’s rent. That right away brought up concerns with him that he was dealing with a landlord directly and not a real estate agent.

The short answer to Kerr’s question is no, you probably shouldn’t. And that’s not just Pique ’s advice — that’s from craiglist.org, a prime destination if you’re looking to find a place to live in Whistler.

The site’s main page has an “Avoid Scams” link, which provides a number of tips when checking out listings you find online.

Behind the link you’ll find the following advice:

1) Only deal locally with people you meet in person. Craigslist says if you follow this rule than you’ll avoid 99 per cent of scam attempts on Craigslist. That, of course, is difficult for people working from Australia and other countries.

2) Do not wire funds through Western Union, moneygram or any other service. Anybody asking you to do this is a fraudster, the site claims.

3) Do not give out any financial information. This includes bank account numbers, social security numbers, eBay/PayPal information and the like.

4) Avoid any transactions involving shipping or escrow services. Sometimes a fraudulent landlord will ask you ship money to them in advance. That should right away set off alarm bells in a renter’s head. Craigslist advises that “only a scammer will ‘guarantee’ your transaction.”

Kerr isn’t the only one who’s wondered whether he should trust the people putting listings online.

Anneliese Grant, from Lisarow, Australia, is another. She wrote to Pique in late August and said she encountered “at least two” cases of rental fraud on Craigslist. A man calling himself the “Reverend Boris Gapanovitch” told her that he was away in Africa on a Christian mission and that she should contact his wife.

Grant went ahead and called his wife, whom she said did not answer any questions about the room. She just wanted Grant to fill out an application form.

Grant later encountered another man renting a room; this time his name was “Herbert Liles.” He, too, was on a “Christian mission” while his wife was in the United States with the keys. Again, Grant was asked to fill out a rental application form. She has encountered other listings like this.

Grant’s story has a close parallel with that of Jesse Nelson, an employee with Whistler’s Camp of Champions. He followed up on a Craigslist posting for a three-bedroom suite at Whistler Creek Lodge. He contacted the landlord, Kim Craig, who said he would be in Nigeria for two years to do some Christian missionary work.

Nelson was later asked to send money via Western Union to a man named Lucas Adeyemo in Sango Ota, Nigeria. Nelson declined.

Staff Sergeant Steve Leclair of the Whistler RCMP said at the time of Nelson’s story that it can cost a lot of money to track down international fraudsters.

“We’re not going to spend $100,000 on an international investigation of a $2,200 theft in Canada,” he said.

Anyone who encounters a fraudulent renter online is asked to bring it to the attention of website administrators. Craigslist will often put a flag on renters who turn out to be fraudsters asking for money through Western Union.

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