Jackie Therrien needed an apartment in Tillsonburg. It needed to be affordable and available by the end of the month.
Currently sharing a temporary apartment with a roommate in Tillsonburg, Therrien went online to place an 'apartment wanted' notice on Kijiji, a popular classifieds site. Desperate and running out of time, she made a mistake. She posted her cell phone number in the online ad.
"I put 'Looking for a one bedroom asap in Tillsonburg.' And here's my phone number and email."
She got two text replies, both claiming to be from California landlords with rental properties in Tillsonburg.
Mike Thompson, Landlord No. 1, from Hemet, California (the area code matched Hemet), emailed her photos and a rental agreement for an apartment on Tillson Avenue that would include heat (gas), cable ready, electricity, washer and dryer, parking, high speed internet, cold and hot water, microwave, fridge and stove. The three-page document appeared to be a standard lease agreement form.
But there was a problem.
When Therrien visited the Tillson Ave site, she discovered it was already rented on a long-term lease.
"I texted him, 'hey there's people living in that house right now, are you sure it's 79 Tillson Ave?' He replied, 'Hello how are you today?' I said, 'Are you sure it's 79 Tillson Ave?' He said 'yes the people living there right now, their lease is up. I want to rent the place out. So once you make the payment to move (first and last month's rent) they will be out for sure."
Therrien immediately declined to send money.
"I said, 'no, you're scam artist.' That's what I told him.
"At first he wanted me to pay $1,100. Then he talked it down to $1,000 when I said I couldn't afford it. Then my roommate decided she didn't want to go in with me, so I told him that. So he said, okay, let's bring it down to $900. I said I couldn't afford that, so he said okay $700 is fine.
"When you're somebody who is in real need and trying to find a place to live because you only have 2-3 weeks to live here, this was... a bad thing. I was getting so excited. I was thinking, 'yes, I've got a place!'"
The rental application form from Landlord No. 2, Traczynski Tomasz via hotmail address, immediately raised red flags. It asked for her name, address, phone number, age, occupation, pets, car, when she intended to move in, and required one or two months deposit.
The preamble was sketchy at best.
"You can go ahead and view the property. am a live out landlord, i work in USA, i own convenient time, I will be sending you the entrance keys and the duplicated copy of the house document for you to go through, If all arrangement is made promptly... You can go ahead and drive pass the house and view from outside. attached to this email, is the pictures of the inside."
Tomasz emailed her five professional-looking photos including two from an elegant kitchen (with island), a wood-floor room with small window, and a washer/dryer unit.
"Go ahead and fill out the rent application form so that will can proceed further and discuss on how to get the keys and papers sent to you via DHL... A package containing the housing Documents, property address with full description. Including the direction to the place and keys will be ship to you once we both agreed with the term and condition."
Tomasz told her the property was on Pearl Street in Tillsonburg. But his email identified a different address on Pearl, and she was suspicious.
"That one is up for sale right now and there are people in there."
Therrien says she learned a lesson from her apartment hunting experience.
"I should have never put my cell phone number... I'm never going to put my cell phone number again because that was a big mistake. That was a really big mistake, I think. If I was doing it again I'd just have them contact me through Kijiji. They've already got your email, so when you reply it says 'send email' but it doesn't show your email. I should have never put my phone number on there."
SPREADING THE WORD
"I just want to let people know this can happen to you," said Therrien, who planned to send her information to the OPP Fraud department. "Anything's possible anymore. Just make sure you don't send any money – I'm very glad I didn't send any money. He (Tomasz) wanted me to send it through Moneygram and he said 'you'll get your keys once I get my money.' I found that odd, that he wanted me to send it directly to him. Usually if it's someone outside of the area they would have a property manager here that would take care of maintenance, collect rent, someone to show you the property."
As of last Wednesday, all she had managed to find in her price range was a small bachelor apartment without a kitchen.
"It's got a fridge and stove, but no sink. That's the only thing I could find, I couldn't find anything else. Everything's gone up. I called everybody and all the apartments are filling.
"So I'm going to live here temporarily, save up," Therrien summed up, "and try to find a one-bedroom."
Slowly and safely.