Online rental scams on the upswing in Ontario 0
Cottage rentals are becoming more abundant in the Haliburton Highlands, however recent trends show an increase in online rental scams. The Ontario Provincial Police warn potential renters to be cautious when making vacation plans. ANGELICA BLENICH/HALIBURTON COUNTY ECHO/QMI AGENCY
A vacation in the Haliburton Highlands is a sacred thing.
Travelling to Ontario’s north means a week away from life’s stresses and toward days filled with glorious sunsets, a warm dock to relax on and a cool lake for swimming.
However, imagine you pack up the kids, the car and the family dog, drive three hours on the highway only to get to a place that doesn’t exist.
Instead of that beautiful, lakefront log cabin you saw advertised on the Internet and already paid for, you arrive at an empty, abandoned lot.
Online rental scams are happening throughout Ontario and the Haliburton Highlands are no exception.
In many cases renters are finding cottages advertised online, sending money or payment information but later finding out that cottage doesn’t exist.
For someone trying to rent a place in Haliburton County this summer, an online ad raised some flags for the potential renter.
“For some of my cottage owners, I take bookings and they take bookings … with the objective of getting them fully booked for the summer,” said Janice Bishop, owner of All-Season Cottage Rentals in Eagle Lake.
“One of my cottages, the owner puts ads up online herself,” said Bishop. “She got a call one day from a lady … what had happened was somebody had taken her original ad, word for word with the same photos, and put it up online somewhere else with a different phone number.”
A renter trying to book the cottage was about to give her payment information but suspected something was off with the ad, said Bishop.
“She did some research and must be very savvy with the Internet because she was able to track down the real owner,” said Bishop.
The owner contacted the website where the fake ad was listed in order to have it removed, according to Bishop.
Because no money or payment information was exchanged there was little the OPP could do to intervene.
Bishop believes the potential renter was fortunate to have caught on to the scam before making a crucial mistake.
“But think of how many people don’t,” she said.
Apart from losing out on money there is more at risk when it comes to rental scams.
“We get sad phone calls from people all the time and it’s really upsetting when you think that people spend all year saving their money and to have somebody scam their vacation away from them,” said Bishop.
Bill Dewey has been running WRD Cottage Rental Agency in the Highlands for the past 18 years. During the last 10 years Dewey has seen a number of online rental scams continue.
“People are coming through our door during the summer and saying you’ve got to help us,” he said. “They’ve paid money and they’re out of pocket and either the cottage doesn’t exist at all or it’s nowhere near the representation was in the ad.”
In many cases the renters are sending cash in the mail to the contact info listed in the online ad, according to Dewey.
Dewey believes the popularity of the Internet and the money that is available is why these types of scams are happening.
“They can make $5,000 easily and just walk away,” he said. “It’s incredible what’s going on … it’s buyer beware.”
With 190 cottages listed on WRD’s website, the owner tries to rectify as many situations that he can.
Both Bishop and Dewey are members of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, a governing body that sets out regulations and guidelines travel businesses must adhere to.
“They are set-up to protect the consumer,” said Bishop. “When people rent a cottage they should only be renting through a licensed rental agency. They should not be renting directly from owners.”
Apart from the potential to be caught in a scam, renting from an owner can be risky due to misrepresentations of their cottage.
While most private owners are good-hearted, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the bunch, said Bishop.
“Most of them are wonderful and sincere and they’re offering a beautiful cottage that they love and care for, but then you have those who just want the money and they just don’t care,” she said.
Bishop once received a call from a gentleman who was in a wheelchair and had rented a place where the owner told him he would be able to access the beach.
“Well there were about 100 stairs … the man spent the week watching his family enjoy the waterfront from up at the cottage.”
Personal details for properties listed with Bishop’s business are kept confidential, to avoid falling victim to a scam.
The Ontario Provincial Police caution those who see an online ad for a cottage rental to only deal with the owner or a reputable firm.
Once money is paid out it is difficult to get it back, according to the OPP.
Haliburton Highlands Const. Paul Potter said the OPP have not been made aware of any cottage rental scams in Haliburton County this year.