Fraud victim in Toronto warns of cottage rental scams as bookings for summer heat up
A Toronto woman is out $1,000 after being scammed while trying to book a cottage vacation for her family this summer.
Chloe Sychangco told blogTO she was searching for a vacation rental online when she came across a post in a Facebook group advertising a Kawartha Lakes cottage, and she was extra intrigued because the post had just been published and she knew she'd be the first to respond.
"His profile picture was of a family on vacation," said Sychangco of one of the initial reasons she felt she could trust him.
"As we proceed to message through Facebook Messenger, he points out he needs to add me on Facebook to check out my profile because him and his wife are cautious of who to rent it out to. My profile content is all about my kids."
Sychangco said the man who posted the ad even offered some examples of activities she could do at the cottage with her children, and she expressed her gratitude and told him she had been saving whatever extra money she could and taking extra shifts at work to be able to do this special thing for her kids.
Believing he was trustworthy, Sychangco sent the man a deposit for the cottage, but it wasn't long before she knew she had been duped.
"After an hour or two, not hearing back from him and receiving notification he accepted my deposit, I felt violated that he committed this even after I opened up about my current situation," she said.
"To be taken advantage of like this is mind-blowing. For this specific occurance, it hurt more because it shows they know to target families."
Sychangco said she even confided in the man that she'd almost been scammed twice while trying to rent out a room in her home, and she told him how thankful she was that she was able to catch on before losing any money in both situations.
This time, unfortuntaly, she wasn't so lucky.
"Besides hurt, I felt extremely stupid for not knowing better and just blinded by excitement when I should have known," she conceded.
But Sychangco isn't alone. Last year, Ontario Provincial Police issued a warning to members of the public ahead of Labour Day about an ongoing online cottage rental scam.
And with the demand for summer vacations in the woods at an all-time high thanks to pandemic travel restrictions, it's no wonder scammers are capitalizing on the opportunity.
To avoid falling prey to this kind of scam, Sychangco recommends meeting the owner of the property in person to sign an official agreement and ask for ID.
"If they have nothing to hide, it wouldn't be a problem at all," she said. "When they get pushy for a deposit, be aware."
The OPP issued similar advice last year, advising renters to view the property in person, with a friend, while the owner is present prior to putting down a deposit.
"Anyone renting a cottage should be very cautious and only deal directly with the owner of a cottage or a reputable business that specializes in seasonal cottage renting," said police, adding that the owner or business should also be searched online to find reviews from past customers.
"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your instincts."
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