Cat Cabajar became excited when her application to rent a two-bedroom house in central Sarnia was approved.
“I thought I’d finally found an affordable house in a nice neighbourhood for my family,” says the 36-year-old professional artist. “I’ve been looking for a place for a while. It is slim pickings right now.”
Actually, she was being scammed by a fraud that’s increasingly playing out in our region.
“In hindsight, I look back and see all the cracks. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” said Cabajar who continues to look for a rental house for herself and her son.
“This is a hard lesson learned.”
The misadventure began when Cabajar found a potential rental by answering an ad on Kijiji online classifieds.
A man named Joseph Edward replied, claiming to have moved from Sarnia to do missionary work in the U.S.
Instead of selling his family home on Collingwood Street, he said he wanted to rent it for $900 a month, well below market value, to someone willing take good care of it.
He sent an application form to Cabajar.
“I’ve rented all my adult life and this application form was different from others,” she said. “It was full of typos and grammatical errors.”
But she overlooked that after speaking with the man on the phone and finding he had a thick accent.
Within a day of returning the application, Cabajar was offered the house.
“I was so excited to get the text,” she said. “I knew that the rent was really low but I thought maybe this was an act of kindness. That does happen.”
She was asked for a $700 deposit, before seeing the house.
She wrote the man: “I would really like to make this work but I need to see the house in person before we can proceed.”
He replied: “You can only drive by the house and check it out.”
That’s when she knew it was a fraud.
Sarnia realtor Bev Boone has heard of many real estate cons this spring, including the one that targeted Cabajar.
Scammers watch for MLS listings online and use the addresses of homes for sale to lure victims, she said.
“Cat’s experience is tough. Scammers don’t just prey on seniors anymore. They look for people in vulnerable situations who need something. We all need to be on guard.”
Const. Nelson Amaral of Sarnia Police Services agrees.
Many scams prey on emotions; usually fear, but not always, he said.
“I’m not surprised by this one. In this case, it’s about the joy of being chosen for a new home.”
Amaral advised against sending any money until you’ve confirmed the landlord’s legitimacy and viewed inside the home.
Cabajar did exactly the right thing, he said.
“Scam artists are counting on you not thinking straight. In every case, it’s best to step back and ask yourself if this is legitimate. Talk to someone about it and see what they think.”
“Unfortunately for Cat, by the time she realized it was a scam, her hopes were high,” Boone said.
“With the way the world is these days, we have to be so careful.”