Home in Oak Bay listed for sale without owner’s knowledge

Home in Oak Bay listed for sale without owner’s knowledge
CHEK
WatchThe Oak Bay Police Department has been investigating an unusual incident this month after a house was listed for sale without the owner's knowledge.
A view of Barlett Avenue in Oak Bay.

Correction: An earlier version of this story showed a realtor sign that may have implied that person was somehow linked to the fradulent activity in this story. In fact, the video shown was file video and the realtor is in no way connected to the story. CHEK apologizes to the realtor and regrets the error.

The Oak Bay Police Department has been investigating an unusual incident this month after a house was listed for sale without the owner’s knowledge.

“Fortunately, a neighbour just saw the house for sale when they were out for a bike ride and thought that seemed odd,” said Oak Bay Police chief Ray Bernoties.

Bernoties said the department received a complaint on March 3 that a residence in the 2100-block of Bartlett Avenue was listed for sale without the consent of the legal owner.

The owner of the house is away long-term and is using a property management company to take care of their home and tenants in the meantime, Bernoties said.

When the neighbour saw the ‘For Sale’ sign, they called the owners directly.

“The homeowner was shocked to hear that their house was listed,” Bernoties said.

An investigation was launched and police discovered that an unknown person — pretending to be the owner — had been in contact with the property management company.

The unknown suspect reached out to the company and made contact by e-mail back in February.

The suspect convinced the property management company that they had changed their e-mail to a new e-mail address and provided a new phone number while signing the contact e-mail with the name of the true property owner.

Using a series of e-mail exchanges, without providing proof of identification, the suspect contacted the property management company representative and requested a property valuation in mid-February.

The suspect was then referred to a realtor, who completed a valuation of the property. It was then that the suspect requested, by e-mail, that the house be listed for sale.

Police said the suspect provided a fake passport and health card with the owner’s name to confirm their identity and get the house listed.

The home was ultimately listed and there were showings of the residents to potential buyers.

“Really, there was nothing more than an email address and some fake documents used,” Bernoties noted. “And that shouldn’t be enough to serve as a catalyst to list a house on a market … Certainly, in this day and age, we can’t trust just receiving an email and take large financial action based on that.”

Police said the realtor did explain to the suspect, via e-mail, that arrangements would need to be made with a Canadian lawyer before any offers could be considered.

Bernoties said it’s likely this would have been caught during that process, but it’s concerning it got as far as showings in the first place.

“This horse got way too far out of the barn for our comfort and definitely for the comfort of the homeowner,” he noted.

When listing a home for sale, realtors must verify the identity of a seller. This is done through an identification form, called FINTRAC, that requires the realtor to meet with the seller to reduce money laundering and fraudulent activity.

“Someone has to see a seller face-to-face before we can list a property,” said Tasha Medve, realtor with the Modern Real Estate Team.

If a seller is out of town, there are other ways to confirm their identity.

“If they are not here, we then have to put them in touch with a lawyer or another realtor or managing broker [in the place they’re in] to witness this document,” Medve said. “Now, this document, we have to actually put in a spot saying we have not met this person and that they are the witness.”

The process involves meeting the seller and looking at some valid photo ID, whether it’s a passport or driver’s license.

At Bartlett Avenue, the ‘For Sale’ sign has come down.

Oak Bay PD says the incident was investigated with the assistance of the Saanich Police Financial Crimes Unit.

Due diligence and prevention is the answer to avoiding situations like these, Bernoties noted.

Although the sale of the home was avoided, a suspect behind the fraud was never identified.

“There was very limited suspect information to work with given that none of the witnesses had ever met in person with the suspect,” noted police in a statement.

Although the sale of the home was avoided, a suspect behind the fraud was never identified.

“We have some reason to believe this suspect or suspects have also tried a similar activity on the Lower Mainland so this is not an Oak Bay incident,” said Bernoties. “This is just a new way to try and commit a fraud and make some money without ever really revealing who you are.”

The investigation has now concluded, according to Oak Bay PD. If more information becomes available, it can be reopened.

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