A University student is warning Canadians to be cautious when looking at properties on popular selling site Kijiji after he fell victim to a University housing scam. Akash Shaji realized it was a scam after a fraudster tried to rent him a property that wasn’t available to rent, and didn’t even belong to him. The conman tried to take a $600 deposit from the vulnerable student, and wanted to charge him $1,450 per month, for a ‘rental’ that didn’t even exist!

In July, Cape Breton University student Akash Shaji began looking on Kijiji for a house for him and his three friends to rent. After posting an ad on the advertising site describing what they were looking for, Shaji quickly received a response from a man claiming to have a house for rent in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, that would be a perfect fit for Shaji and his friends.

The scammer told Shaji that he was currently out of town, and could not show him the house, but invited him to the property to look at the exterior and peek in the windows. After Shaji had viewed the house, the landlord told him that he must transfer hundreds of dollars, in order to secure the rental.

However, when the landlord started calling Shaji up to 20 times a day to check up on the payment, Shaji realized something wasn’t right.

It was not until Shaji decided to revisit the house that he realized the extent of the scam he’d almost been subjected to. As it turned out, the property in Glace Bay belonged to a Canadian family, who were looking to sell the property, not rent it. 

The real owner of the home, Rob Parsons, told CBC News of his horror when he learned that his property was being used to scam students. "You feel like you've kind of been cheated," he said. "That's your home and your property and someone else is trying to scam people and rent it."

Sadly, this isn't the first time that University students have fallen victim to this kind of scam. An Ontario local states that she found an ad for a basement apartment on Kijiji last year, and paid the poster of the ad $380 for first and last month rent. 

However, when University student Elaine Searle showed up to her new home in Newfoundland, it turned out that the residents of the house had no idea who she was and the entire incident was a scam. 

Waterloo Regional Police also issued a warning to students about rental scams this year after two different students were involved in rental scams while looking for a new place to live. 

Property scammers will often use homes that are for sale to lure in their victims, stealing information and photos from realtor’s websites. The official Kijiji website provides a number of hints and tips to avoid property scammers on the site, the most important one being, “If it looks too good to be true - it probably is.”

The page advises users to be wary of photos that look overly professional, as it is likely they have come from real estate websites and are not legit. Kijiji also warns against "overly flowery descriptions" with extensive information not relevant to renters, as this too is likely to have been copied from real estate sites.

The site urges users to be suspicious of anybody who is not available to show you around the property, explaining, “They will claim to be overseas but in reality, they do not own the property in the listing. This is a scam.” 

Fortunately, Shaji didn’t end up sending any money to the fraudster, but he is worried that other international students may not be so lucky. Speaking to CBC News, Shaji said, “They're moving from ... another country. It's really far, they don't know what's happening here and it's really bad."

Police are not investigating the incident as Shaji and Parsons did not file official complaints.

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