Fake Christian Landlord On the Prowl in Ottawa
A man, Marc Dionne and his wife were recently reminded that not all that glitters is gold when they almost fell for a rental scam after seeing an ad for a four-bedroom townhouse in south Ottawa. The house was offered at $1,200 a month and had been recently renovated.
Ottawa Citizen reports that the ad, however, turned out to have been posted by a poser landlord, Rev. Mrs. Lorraine Molinari.The poser claimed that she had moved to Los Angeles with her husband to take up God’s work with an international Christian network called SIM or Serving in Mission. She even presented documents to prove she was legitimate and would use pious phrases such as “May GOD bless you and your family.” The ad which had been posted on Craigslist offered a home for rent in the Bank Street and Albion Road area: four bedrooms, two baths, AC, security alarm, pet-friendly, with heat, hydro and cable included in the $1,200 total. It all seemed too good to be true.
The intending renters who fell in love with the home, tried severally toset up a house inspection but each time, the fake landlords would decline with a gentle evasion and instead kept asking the Dionnes to provide more personal information such as: first, middle and last names, home and cell phone numbers, occupation, marital status, consent to a $700 refundable deposit, type of pet, etc. they claimed that the keys to the house would be released after all these questions have been answered.
The constant evasiveness from the poser landlords raised suspicion for the couple who then decided to drive down to the location of the building and have a look for themselves. When they looked through the window, everything was as the ad said. And then they decided to ask the neighbours.
Turned out the building had been advertised by a realtor, Jeff Phillips. Rev. Mrs. Lorraine Molinari, the travelling missionary had been fictitious characters who stole Philips’s ads, changed the contact numbers and tried to make a quick buck.
When the couple contacted the SIM organization to inquire about the Rev. Mrs. Molinari, it turned out that the organization had never heard of her, they, however, admitted that the organization’s URL has been regularly dropped into phoney ads across North America.
According to SIM USA chief financial officer Nathan Krupke, thirty-six complaints or suspicious inquiries have been made in the past year, “We’ve seen all kinds of names being used,” he said. “They appear to be just making things up.”
“I can see how people would fall for this,” said Dionne. “I read a lot about what’s going on in the world, but it never crossed my mind there would be a rental scam.”
Apparently, this is one of the oldest scams in the book, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
The Centre offers some warning signs on how to Protect Yourself when looking for housing
- When searching for rentals, go to the address. Schedule a showing and confirm its availability.
- Request a lease/contract. Review it thoroughly.
- Complete open source searches on rental addresses to ensure it’s not a duplicate post.
- Do not send funds to strangers.
- Contact Equifax and Transunion if you’ve provided sensitive information on applications.
- Go with your gut. If it seems fishy it probably is.