An Ottawa couple recently listed their brand new rental property, but before they could rent it out, they found a family living there without their knowledge following a daring and complex scam.
The scam, based on a fake Kijiji ad but with a puzzling twist, not only duped the family out of thousands of dollars in rent, but also left the landlords stunned and raped.
The ordeal began in August, after Anuj and Saloni Mittal bought a two-story townhouse on Pastel Way in Ottawa’s Barrhaven neighborhood and listed it for rent.
Weeks later, on September 13, the couple’s MLS agent Dinesh Sharma called them early in the morning with shocking news.
He said a man claiming to live in the couple’s townhouse complained that his landlord was trying to change the terms of the lease and asked for a higher rent.
“Your client is acting,” recalled the man who told him Sharma.
But the Mittals hadn’t even signed a tenant by then. As far as they knew, no one had ever lived in the newly constructed building.
In fact, the “For Rent” sign was still on the grass outside their rental property, so the man came up with Sharma’s name and number.
The Mittals and their agent quickly traveled to Pastel Way to investigate.
Strangers inside the house
There they met David Polk, who was still moving into the townhouse he and his family had moved into two days earlier.
Polk explained that he spotted the rental listing on Kijiji and agreed to inspect the property, sign the lease, and pay the first and last month’s rent via a series of text messages with the alleged landlord. , all without a face-to-face meeting.
But neither the Mittals nor their MLS agent had ever created a Kijiji ad for the unit.
Polk, who had not been in the rental market for many years, said he believed reaching the deal without a face-to-face meeting was in line with the number of businesses operating during the pandemic.
âUnder normal circumstances, yes, that would have raised red flags,â said the 36-year-old construction worker and father.
Polk said he transferred $ 4,300 in rent electronically to a man named Mikhael Gland, who provided the safe combination to allow Polk to access the keys.
Disagreement over how the abuser obtained information
But how did the crook find out about the combination?
After sharing information, the owners, the listing agent and Polk focused on a theory that the scam could have been based on an online tool called Display time, a Chicago-based site that allows agents to schedule and book home visits.
The service promotes itself as a one-stop-shop for accredited MLS agents. With just a few clicks, an account holder can find detailed information about a listed property – its great deals, timing, as well as the door lock combination.
Sharma’s real estate brokerage has a contract with ShowTime, which means all of its properties, including Barrhaven Townhouse, are listed on the platform.
Polk, the Mittals, and Sharma suspect that the assailant accessed the lockbox combination via a reservation on ShowTime by posing as a real estate agent.
Online records show that an agent based 400 kilometers away in Toronto booked a visit to the townhouse on September 11. Contacted by CBC News, the agent denied making the reservation and said he was surprised his account appeared to have been tampered with.
In an email, ShowTime chairman Michael Lane denied that the breach was committed by his company.
Instead, he blamed an unnamed real estate brokerage for making a mistake.
âIt appears to us that the assailant, posing as a licensed purchasing agent in Ottawa, called another office in Ottawa that was using ShowTime software on a desktop computer,â Lane wrote.
“Without adequately contesting the identity of the caller, the office staff then changed the caller’s contact information over the phone.”
Although his company is not responsible, Lane said, the case prompted them to update their software to avoid “human errors like this.”
WATCH | Rental scam excludes tenant from $ 4,300
Beyond the usual rental fraud, according to the police
Officers with the Ottawa Police Fraud Unit, which are currently investigating, say they have never seen a rental scam carried out this far, as the perpetrator normally disappears long before the move-in date promised.
Retail of the Ontario Provincial Police Const. John Armit of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center said renters should always check for duplicate listings and never send money before meeting in person.
The owners allowed the Polk family to stay in the townhouse for a week. The family has since moved into a relative’s basement.
âI feel bad for him. He’s definitely the victim,â owner Anuj Mittal said of Polk. âIt was shocking and surprising for our family. “
The fake Kijiji listing was still on the site this week. CBC contacted the person who created the list, who was called Asheley, but the correspondence ended after the reporter identified himself.
Radio-Canada’s text messages sent to âMikhael Glandâ phone were not answered.
Polk said he reported the ad to Kijiji and “will never watch Kijiji again”, while he also appealed to his bank, RBC, to cancel the wire transfer of $ 4,300.
A spokesperson for RBC said the bank reminds customers to “take extra steps to ensure that they are dealing with a trusted source when transferring or receiving funds.”