Beware Of Bogus Olympic Home Rentals, BBB Warns

November 12, 2009

Better Business Bureau is warning renters to be on the lookout for scammers on Craigslist and other online classifieds when searching for a place to rent for the upcoming Olympics. Phony ads for rental properties across the province are cropping up, and are specifically aimed at stealing money from unsuspecting renters. 

According to an RCMP report, a group from the U.S. attempted to rent a property from a landlord in Whistler, who requested a $2,000 deposit by wire transfer to secure the residence through the 2010 Games. There was an issue with the information provided by the landlord to the renters, however, and Western Union halted the transaction before it could be completed.

“Online classifieds like Craigslist have made it easier for people to find things like home rentals, but the listings are not vetted and prone to scams,” said Lynda Pasacreta, BBB president and CEO. “People from across the world want to come to Vancouver-Whistler for the Olympics and with a short supply of accommodation, it is a recipe for disaster.”

Renters typically fall victim to this scam after responding to an online classified for a rental property. Victims say they were told by the supposed landlord that they needed to wire a large deposit and then they would receive the keys to the rental home. When the victims asked if they could check out the property first, the landlords claimed that they were out of the country and could not show the house.

As a result of scams like these, sometimes shocked homeowners have received knocks at their doors by people who were planning to move into their new rental home. Often the real homeowners have their house up for sale – not rent - and had pictures posted online that the scammers could steal for their bogus listings.

BBB advises renters of the following red flags to look out for:

• The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.
• The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via e-mail. Scammers might say they have just been relocated out of the country for a job or missionary work - don’t believe it.
• The landlord requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or even showing the home. Don’t pay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out.
• The landlord asks the renter to wire money through wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Money sent via wire transfer service is extremely difficult to retrieve and once the scammers have picked it up; there is little recourse—if any—for getting your money back.
• If you are looking for accommodation during the 2010 Games, the Olympics has an official website providing a list of hotels, bed and breakfasts, private home rentals and rooms on cruise ships.