After falling victim to two housing rental scams, a couple new to Revelstoke is still homeless.
The couple, originally from Australia and Ireland, moved to Canada on a two-year working visa. After the two pooled savings, they came to Revelstoke from Ontario for the winter season, securing jobs at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
While still in Ontario, the couple started looking for housing in Revelstoke. The two posted an ad to Kijiji, asking for accommodation.
“That was our first mistake,” said Brian Mcgonagle.
The couple got a response from someone calling themselves Brent Lefrancois, who said he had a property available and provided photos.
Lefrancois told the couple, in an email, he had recently moved to North Carolina as his daughter and her husband died in a car crash and he was now in the U.S. to look after his grandchildren. Lefrancois said he needed someone to “take good care of my property.”
He sent the couple a rental application form and a lease agreement form, asking for a damage deposit and two months’ rent, which totalled $2,100.
“We knew finding housing in Revelstoke was difficult, so we went for it,” said Mcgonagle. The couple e-Transferred the money and never heard from the person again.
Realizing they were scammed, the couple called the police.
Yet, Revelstoke RCMP said these cases are difficult to solve, particularly if the fraudster is overseas.
“Once you press send on an e-transfer, it’s gone,” said Sergeant Chris Dobbs.
He said rental scams in Revelstoke are common, particularly because it’s difficult to find housing and renters are desperate.
“It’s ripe for fraudsters.”
Still, on the hunt for a place to live, the couple was contacted by a person referring to himself as Jacques Lafleur.
Now weary, the couple researched B.C. tenancy laws, learning landlords could only ask for half a month’s rent prior to moving in.
“However, this man was far more cunning,” Mcgonagle said.
The person provided photos of the rental property and sent copies of a driver’s license with his name on it. The couple looked up Lafleur on the Government of Ontario website and he appeared to be real.
“It seemed legit,” Mcgonagle said.
To secure the property, the couple paid a $500 damage deposit. The person promised a virtual tour on Oct. 5 but cancelled due to something “urgent”. He sent a rental agreement and told the couple keys were in the garage.
The person then asked for the first month’s rent. Still hesitant, the couple said they visited a bank to wire the money. However, the bank said the address provided was flagged for fraud.
The couple told the person and they soon stopped responding.
Who is Jacques Lafleur?
With a copy of the driver’s license, Black Press was able to track down Lafleur. However, Lafleur said he is also a victim of fraud.
Approximately five months ago, he also posted on Kijiji looking for accommodation in Kitchener, Ont. for his wife, himself and his mother. A “landlord” asked for IDs from all three, which Lafleur provided, along with $800.
The perspective landlord said he would mail the keys, even providing photos of the trip to the mailbox. He also gave Lafleur a driver’s license, which Lafleur later learned was also stolen.
Eventually, the landlord stopped contacting Lafleur and stole his identity.
“I am so angry,” said Lafleur. He contacted police but was also told little could be done.
Mcgonagle and his partner still came to Revelstoke and plan to stay for the winter.
“We’re on a once in a lifetime trip. We’re not here to make money, but see what Canada has to offer.”
However, since “Lafleur” had provided an actual address, the couple visited the house to warn the homeowners of the scam.
“It was quite surprising,” said Stephanie Miller.
“It’s concerning that people can just show up at my door with a truckload of stuff, expecting to move in,” she said.
Matt Cherry, a moderator of the Facebook group Revy Rentals, which has over 11,000 members, said rental scams are common. Cherry, who also owns multiple houses in Revelstoke, said he even found one of his properties for rent on the Stoke List, a local classifieds website when it wasn’t.
Cherry said one of the reasons he created Revy Rentals was to try and provide a secure rental forum.
In the last several years, Cherry said he has blocked roughly 400 people trying to join the Facebook group as scammers.
“Unfortunately, the scams are getting better and better and providing more information to seem legit.”
Cherry encourages all prospective renters to Google landlords, Facetime (if they are outside Revelstoke) and get a tour of the property before handing over any money.
Revelstoke RCMP suggests finding accommodation through a management company, such as Revelstoke Property Services or a reliable website, such as Airbnb. If possible, always meet the landlord.
“If the accommodation seems too good to be true, don’t do it. It probably isn’t,” said Sergeant Chris Dobbs.
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