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'We were all looking forward to this': Ontario woman loses $1,000 deposit in cottage rental scam

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For many, the Canada Day long weekend is the official kick off of summer and many families will be spending time at a cottage.

Owning a cottage is out of reach for many people or they may only want to enjoy the cottage experience for a week or weekend, but if you're looking to rent a cottage and you're using classified websites, be careful you don't get caught in a rental scam.

“We were all looking forward to this vacation because it was a very nice cottage,” said Homa Ashrafpour of Richmond Hill.

Ashrafpour found a cottage rental on Facebook Marketplace in March of this year that looked like a great deal and was large enough for her family and guests, a group of about 13 people.

“There was this ad and it was an amazing cottage and it is was a lot cheaper than other cottages on VRBO or other websites,” said Ashrafpour.

Ashrafpour contacted the person in the ad and agreed to rent the cottage for one week in July and he said he needed a $1,000 deposit.

But once Ashrafpour e-transferred the $1,000, the seller cut off all communication with her.

Ashrafpour later found the cottage in a different ad and called the phone number and the real owner of the cottage told her she was not the first person to be victimized and that criminals were using his property in fraudulent listings.

"The owner of the cottage told me that somebody took his identity and made a fake ad with his cottage information and rented it out to get money,” said Ashrafpour.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) said that cottage rental scams are rampant on social media and classified websites.

"Definitely, this is the time of the year to watch out for cottage rental scams. They are everywhere,” said Jeff Horncastle with CAFC.

Horncastle said victims have lost $308,000 in total to rental scams so far this year, as well as $831,875 in 2023 and $737,102 in 2022.

Potential renters are advised to watch out for low prices, only deal with the owner of the cottage or a reputable rental service and to try and view the property in person if possible.

Horncastle said if you are trying to find a cottage rental using classified websites or social media, fraudulent ads can be difficult to spot.

“They (the scammers) will go and find an old ad or a cottage that has recently been sold and take the photos and the information and craft a fake rental ad,” said Horncastle.

Ashrafpour said her summer vacation plans are now ruined and that she will no longer trust classified websites to rent a cottage.

"It felt bad not just about the money, it's that you got scammed by people who are just sitting in their houses and taking people’s money and that’s not right,” said Ashrafpour.

If you have to leave a deposit to secure a cottage consider using a credit card which can offer more protection if there is a problem.

Also, due to the huge demand to rent cottages it’s advisable to start searching for a cottage as early as December for a rental for the following summer.

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