As the housing and rental market continues to see an incredible lack of vacancy and competitiveness, make sure you're keeping watch for potential fraudsters.

Strathmore is currently sitting at a vacancy rate of zero. For comparison, a healthy vacancy rate is around 4-5 per cent, meaning these properties would be on the market for at least a couple of weeks. Most available properties at the moment either go within a couple of days — or even the day of listing — or are listed at an unreasonably high amount. This crunch could have you desperate to secure a place, which creates the exact scenario these fraudsters use to scam you out of your hard earned money.

Real estate agent Hayley Poirier explained a situation where some students were moving to Lethbridge and needed a place to stay and just narrowly avoided a scam. Poirier explained that the fraudster had the students meet him outside of a house, but said he couldn't show them the house because the tenant was still inside so they didn't want to disturb him. However, the fraudster continued to say if the students gave him a deposit now, he could secure the property for them by the time they needed it. Poirier said not being able to go inside a property is a huge red flag, because you can't even confirm if the person actually owns the property they're claiming to be able to rent out.

"That's one of the ways these fraudsters work. They pretend that they are the owner or a landlord of a home. They'll meet the prospective tenant outside and not go inside and give some kind of story about why they can't go inside right now but if they give over their deposit today they will be secured the rental when the tenant moves out," she said.

This is a common story for Poirier, who's heard the story dozens and dozens of times. Unfortunately, there was even a situation where one of her clients fell for the scam and never got the money back. On the supposed moved in day the victim went to the house and met with the people living inside, who owned the house and had no idea what was going on.

Other red flags to watch out for is the application fee, which is not a real thing. Poirier says fraudsters take screenshots of listings on real websites like MLS and put them on social media. And when you contact these people they ask for money to create an application for renting.

"Please don't ever hand over money just to fill out an application for renting. In Alberta you do not have to hand money over just to fill out an application. Once the application is received and agreed upon, then you're going to go into contract with that landlord after that point. And that's when deposits and rent money would be owed."

"you do not want to hand over money to a potential landlord until you are actually sitting down and filling out the tenancy agreement."

Finally, make sure you're being extra cautious if a situation feels too good to be true. Fraudsters will often list their fake properties for cheaper than normal to draw people in, only to take their money and never be seen again.

"This person is going to ask for less money than normal just to try and get some money out of somebody. they don't normally ask for full, normal amounts, because they're trying to get that hit as quickly as possible and move on to the next one."

You can go to the RCMP if you encounter one of these scams to make them aware that it's happening. However, if you do unfortunately fall for the scam it's likely you won't be getting your money back, as these fraudsters often live in areas further away and use fake contact information. Whether it's an email, phone number, or social media, it's likely they have no connection to that area and it can't be traced back to them.

If you're looking to rent, keep these red flags in mind. If you're ever asked for money before signing the contract, make sure you get out of that situation and report it so that no one else will fall victim to fraudsters taking advantage of desperate people.

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