Over the past month on Reddit, University of Waterloo students reported paying deposits for sublet agreements that turned out to be scams. The police are investigating after six people signed leases and paid deposits before discovering that the rental was not legitimate.
Police had listed 130 Columbia St. W and 365 Albert St. as locations that were being fraudulently advertised as available for rent between October and November of 2021. According to the police, an unknown suspect or suspects posted the apartments and connected with the victims on social media. In addition, over the past few weeks, students have stated in a Reddit post about the topic that there have been fraudulent listings for 161 Elgin Crescent as well.
One victim of a scam, who asked to remain unnamed, explained that the landlord had avoided meeting in person and had given personal information that could not be verified — for example, claiming to work at a company that said this person was not an employee. The victim also warned that there are more factors to consider beyond just losing the deposit money, such as having to worry about potential identity theft in the future.
“The deposit was low enough that I was okay with losing that amount if I got a place,” they explained. “What I didn’t account on [sic] was the information I gave him — my date of birth, my driver’s license. I think dealing with the fallout from that was a little more stressful, rather than just the money.”
For students looking for housing, the COVID-19 pandemic poses serious challenges. Since many of the interactions are virtual and often long-distance, it can be difficult to arrange an in-person viewing of the unit before coming to any agreement. This makes it all the more important to exercise caution before paying deposits or signing leases.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Waterloo Regional Police Service has issued several public warnings about rental scams. In one warning, the police noted that “While rental scams can happen to anyone, typically, rental frauds increase while younger individuals and students are looking for accommodation or subletting their current accommodations.” Another warning shares advice for avoiding rental scams.
To help with the search for housing, UW offers student classifieds and off-campus housing listings. The university also provides information on tenant rights and dealing with leases, including information about how much money landlords are allowed to ask for as a deposit before the tenant moves in.
UW has acknowledged the influx of housing scams and has included extra tips to keep students safe during the housing search.
For more information, visit UW’s off-campus housing website or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with any specific questions.
Anyone with information about rental scams in the area should contact the police or Crime Stoppers.