Victoria Police are asking additional victims to come forward after arresting two people for allegedly orchestrating sophisticated rental frauds that have cost at least 10 people thousands of dollars.
According to the Victoria Police Department, the fraud involves online ads for rental suites and is primarily conducted by email and text, often taking place over a period of weeks or months.
It also involves suspects meeting with victims, calling victims’ references, and handing over fraudulent key fobs, which VicPD described as unusual and brazen.
In one case, which was reported to VicPD on June 24, the victim said they responded to a Craigslist rental ad on March 28 and met with whom they believed was the owner of a suite in a multi-unit residential building in the 1600-block of Quadra Street.
Police say the suspect then called the victim’s references and had the victim sign what appeared to be a valid lease agreement with May 15 listed as the move-in date and had the victim transfer funds for both a damage deposit and first month’s rent.
At some point before the original move-in date, the suspect contacted the victim and told them the move-in date was going to be delayed by a month because there had been a flood in the unit but provided the victim with a key fob that they said would “take a few days” to activate.
When the victim went to the building, they discovered that the fob did not work and that the suite they had been shown was in fact a short-term vacation rental that was occupied by another tenant.
At least nine similar rental fraud cases are under investigation, and Victoria Police believe there are many more.
In another fraud, the victim answered a rental ad for a place in a multi-unit building residential building in the 800-block of Yates Street, according to VicPD.
As was the case in the other frauds, the suspect met with the victim, showed them the unit, called the victim’s references and made them sign what appeared to be a valid tenancy agreement and had the victim send money for a damage deposit to secure the unit.
However, the victim became suspicious and contacted the building’s property manager, who said the suite was not for rent.
Victoria Police say the building manager went one step further by finding the rental listing online and arranging to meet with the suspect. Once the building manager met with the suspect, they realized a rental scam was taking place and confronted the suspect.
“In an effort to assist the victim in recovering their funds, put the victim on speakerphone to arrange a return of funds and recorded the encounter. While the suspect agreed to return the funds before leaving the unit, no funds have been returned to the victim,” VicPD said in a press release.
During the confrontation, the building manager was able to capture an image of the suspect, who is believed to be involved in at least nine other similar rental frauds.
Victoria Police arrested a male suspect on Sept. 2 and a second suspect on Sept. 19.
The second suspect, a male, was wanted on a warrant for violating conditions related to a previous series of frauds, in which he faced 36 different fraud-related charges. He has since been released on a series of conditions, according to Victoria Police.
“Given the man’s extensive history of fraud charges and convictions, and the number of victims in the current series of frauds that officers are investigating, investigators are concerned that there may be additional victims,” the release states.
VicPD are now asking anyone who may have been a victim of a similar rental fraud to contact them. They are also asking anyone who recognizes a 5-foot-8 Caucasian man with dark brown, stubble-length hair who wore a medical mask and a “newsboy” style hat to contact them. In one fraud, the suspect was seen with painted fingernails and was wearing tight jeans, a button-up shirt and a necklace.
Bowen Osoko, media spokesperson with the Victoria Police Department, told CHEK News in an e-mailed statement said there is no evidence to suggest that the rental frauds have taken place in nearby communities such as Saanich and Oak Bay, but it may be possible because the second suspect has previous charges and convictions for crimes that took place across the region.
“The suspect’s previous charges which he had a warrant for are out of Saanich. He also has a significant number of previous charges and convictions here in Victoria and other municipalities across the CRD. So it is very possible that there are more victims who may be across the CRD,” Osoko said in an e-mailed statement.
To contact Victoria Police, call 250-995-7654.