‘There was no fanfare, no huge red flags,’ says Ryan Planche of Barrie, Ont.
Individuals trying to rent a place in Hay River, N.W.T., say they’re being targeted by scammers using fake documents and real house listings to convince them to e-transfer hundreds of dollars in rent and damage deposits.
CBC News interviewed five renters with nearly identical stories of being scammed by fraudsters offering homes to rent in Hay River. Two lost money.
The scam starts with a person posting on Facebook looking for a place to rent. Someone messages you, saying they know someone with a house. They pass along your information, and you’re contacted by someone who sends you pictures associated with a real listing.
The scammer then claims they’ve recently moved to another place in Canada, a few mentioned Saskatchewan, with their fiancé. They say they couldn’t sell the house due to the pandemic — but they’ll mail you the keys if you sign a rental agreement and e-transfer them the damage deposit and rent.
Conned out of rent money
Ryan Planche is a Ph.D. student living in Barrie, Ont., who was trying to move to Hay River. After posting in the Hay River Homes & Apartment Rentals Facebook page, Planche received a message from an account with the name of Claudia Einstein, who said they knew someone with a house to rent. CBC has reached out to the Facebook account under the name Claudia Einstein, but has not received a response.
From there, he was passed off to someone using the name Twyla Fayant.
Planche said “there was no fanfare, no huge red flags. She said she was recently trying to sell her house [but] it didn’t sell.”
He asked a friend residing in Hay River to view the home, and it matched up with the information he had been given. He signed a rental agreement and sent proof of employment — documentation which, he says, contained a lot of personal information.
A day later, Planche was told he was approved, and he e-transferred $750 for a damage deposit as well as $1,500 for the first month’s rent, on the terms that the keys would be mailed to him.
Once he received the tracking information, it was obvious that it was fake — the ultimate red flag that made him realize that he was conned. Since the money was already sent, it was too late to recover his money.
“I felt like I did a little bit of due diligence, but obviously it wasn’t enough,” he said.
Planche had to change his moving date until the new year.
Not the real Twyla Fayant
According to Facebook rental forms, scammers have used the name Twyla Fayant, and a decade old photo of her, to run rental scams in Okotoks, Alta.
After an investigation, CBC discovered that the real Twyla Fayant was scammed out of her personal information in August. Twyla told CBC she hasn’t used that last name in years — it’s her married name, and she’s been separated for decades. She now goes by Twyla Beston-Gleave.
Beston-Gleave recently moved to Calgary with her son and her grandson. In August she was a victim of fraud and sent a scammer a photo of her driver’s licence, which included her married name. The person who scammed her went by the name Marie Sunflower — the same name told to the CBC by one of the other would-be renters in Hay River.
Beston-Gleave said “I was very angry in the beginning, but now I’m just sad. I hope it doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
Beston-Gleave was already having a difficult time renting in Calgary, and now is paranoid because people associate her name with scammers.
“I just don’t understand how people can do this,” she said.
Beston-Gleave said she called Calgary police, who passed the information along to Okotoks RCMP.
Not the real Marie Sunflower
The name Marie Sunflower belongs to Sunflower Marie Okemaysim, a Saskatoon, Sask., resident who was also a victim of a rental scam a year and a half ago.
Okemaysim shared a photo of her ID with the scammer. The photo is now being sent to potential renters to convince them of the scammer’s identity.
Okemaysim said she is continuously contacted by other victims since she was scammed. She says she has gone to the Saskatoon RCMP, and was advised that she should file a statement every time she hears from another victim.
“I just want it to end. I really want it to stop,” she said.
When Planche realized he had been the victim of fraud, he called the real estate agent published on the listing of the house. The agent confirmed the owner is Sue MacKay, who now lives in Peterborough, Ont..
MacKay reported that she was shocked to get a call from her agent about the scam.
“I’m a trusting person, so when things happen like this and you get taken, it’s awful,” and “I don’t know what homeowners can do, because we don’t even know it’s happening.”
At least two other N.W.T. residents, Shawna Trevelyan and Andrew Gallop, said they were contacted by people using the names Claudia Einstein and Twyla Fayant as well. This is only what is reported, there could be more.
Trevelyan told CBC that she and her sister were looking for a place to rent, and tried to find a place through Facebook. Soon after, she received a text message from the scammer and they began corresponding.
“She was asking for our information, like pay stubs or what kind of income we’ve got … and we basically gave her everything,” she said.
“She said for us to send her the damage deposit and she would send us the key for the place.”
As per the other scams, Trevelyan sent $750, but never received the key in the mail. The scammer stopped responding to her messages.
Because it was an e-transfer, her bank couldn’t help her get the money back. She told CBC she was waiting to see if she could recover her money before going to police.
Different names, same scam
Two other people said they were contacted via different accounts. Both accounts were made with fake documents sent to them.
Monica Piros of Calgary said she was looking at job opportunities in Hay River and joined some rental groups on Facebook. An account connected her with someone using the name Luann Christyn Fuller, who claimed to be living in Saskatchewan.
“There were just a couple things that struck me as odd. You know, you hear about these scams all over — they’re pretty common,” Piros said.
When she asked to view the property, she was declined and only allowed to peek through the windows instead. When she asked for proof they owned the house, they sent her a photo of an Ontario driver’s licence.
She said the drivers license seemed off and “that was it for me.”
CBC tried but could not trace a Luann Christyn Fuller living in Saskatchewan; however, the licence is not real and the photo Piros was sent had been doctored to add the name Fuller to the licence.
Fake power bill, real company
Kevin Douglas said the scammers used a faked a power bill in the name of a Marie Sunflower to convince him they owned the house.
The bill had the logo and information of a real Hay River company, Power Surge Technologies Ltd. — but that company sells office supplies and computers.
Power Surge Technologies general manager, Brian Lefebvre, said the company does not, and never have, offered electricity services.
Once Douglas realized the scam, he called the Northwest Territories RCMP to report the scam, but because he didn’t lose any money, he got the impression they wouldn’t be investigating.
If you’re exposed to a fraud or a scam in Canada, it is important to report it to your local police service. This case was reported in several different areas.
N.W.T. RCMP spokesperson, Marie York-Condon, said a search of Hay River RCMP files in general didn’t yield any file related to the rental scam described.
Individuals can also contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre — a partnership between the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police and the Competition Bureau of Canada.
Jennett Mays, a spokesperson for the Barrie Police Service in Barrie, Ont., where Ryan Planche filed his complaint about the scam, said that there have been multiple reports of similar occurrences in Barrie.
Mays wrote “for those that have encountered a fraud attempt, but have not lost any money or personal information, it can be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre,” and “If you have lost money through fraud, it should be reported to your local police service.”
Mays said Planche’s file has been assigned to the police service’s alternate response unit (which responds to non-emergency crimes reported online) to investigate with the help of their fraud unit.
This article was originally sourced by CBC News.