Thursday, August 05, 2010

Rental Frauds in Montreal are on the rise it seems.

Last year in January, I posted my experience with an online rental fraud attempt on myself by an individual from Nigeria. The fraud consisted of an apartment posting on Craigslist that was one of those "too good to be true" thing that immediately raised the red flags for me. I had a little experiment to test the theory and, at the same time wanted to waste a little of the scammer's time and divert his attention from other potential victims (I was mildly successful).

I put it up as a warning to others who may have googled the ad's details or his own information (phone number and western union information) and I did get a few replies to the thread. Yesterday though, it took on a different proportion: I had a short phone interview with Monique Muise, journalist at The Gazette here in Montreal, about my experience with the fraud attempt. Not being a regular reader of The Gazette I was unaware of Mz. Muise's status and was pleasantly surprised to find myself quoted on page A3 (the article itself was presented on the front page of the paper so... Yeah. FRONT PAGE!... oops, sorry got carried away there).

While the phone interview was short and too the point, I reflected afterwards not only on the impact of these types of fraud but also on the wider picture of online fraud. Rental fraud is only one way that Nigerian scammers try to get you and there are other methods that are by far more popular.

We've all gotten them, the famous email about some important character in Africa that needs to smuggle money out of the country and it falls upon you to help them, simply by paying a few thousand dollars in transfer fees, following which you'd get 10% of a few million dollars! For most people the scam is obvious, but for less informed (and likely more gullible) people, it may seem like a genuine opportunity.

So what is the bigger picture, you ask? It's simply that at the moment there doesn't seem to be any way of reporting these fraudulent behaviours to the proper authorities. Sending the information to your local authority may seem like a good idea, but what are they going to do? The neighbourhood police station is definitely not going to call the Nigerian authorities to provide them with this information (if that was even a possibility).

It is left to the people and the media to inform as many people as possible to watch out for these things. In Mz. Muise's article she writes it like it is:
Don't sign anything or hand over a dime until you've actually stood in the space you're hoping to rent.
"You can still shop, check out photos, set up an appointment from outside of the province or outside of Canada, but eventually, you need to see a rental in person".

Some groups like 419 Eater try to take a more active stance in the issue: They find the posts that are obviously by scammers, respond to them and try to waste as much as the scammer's time and money (via phone calls) and divert their attention from other potential victims - like I did. Of course they also report the ads as soon as they have confirmed it is a scam in order to remove it from other's views.

Now don't get me wrong - this is probably not even as widespread as we would think. There aren't thousands of Nigerian geeks going to work every day to try and scam you. This is the work of a few devious individuals who just so happen to be in that country because the laws there either aren't as good, or aren't enforced as well, as here. Weed out those few and the problem is solved... At least until they find something else to do.

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