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Fraudster offered for rent housing that wasn't his, took thousands from victims

Brandon Wildman would take damage or security deposits for units that turned out in some cases to be short-term vacation rentals
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Victoria police said Brandon Wildman defrauded nine victims of more than $9,000 in damage deposits and first month’s rent payments. VIA VICTORIA POLICE DEPARTMENT

A man convicted of seven counts of fraud for “sophisticated” rental scams has been sentenced to 42 months in jail.

Brandon Wildman, 43, defrauded nine victims of over $9,000 in damage deposits and first month’s rent payments from March to July 2022, Victoria police said.

They started an investigation into Wildman in August 2022 after noting similarities in the descriptions of suspects in ­several rental-related frauds — most of them tied to short-term vacation rentals.

It was determined that Wildman would meet with prospective tenants, show them short-term rental units in a variety of downtown buildings, and take damage or security deposits that ranged from $750 to $2,250.

He used different aliases when contacting his victims and took payments by cash or e-transfer, police said.

In many instances, Wildman would enter into a written lease agreement with the prospective tenants, sometimes providing a key fob for the building that he claimed would be activated when the tenancy began, police said in a statement.

“As the move-in date approached, Wildman would cease communication with the prospective tenants, some who then found out that the unit they rented was actually a short-term vacation rental.”

Wildman, who has eight ­previous convictions for fraud, was ordered to pay restitution to his victims when he is released.

In 2022, Victoria police arrested two suspects and asked more victims to come forward after discovering multiple rental frauds that cost people tens of thousands of dollars.

The frauds involved online ads for rental suites and ­meeting with victims, calling their ­references and giving out phoney key fobs, police said at the time.

One victim reported transferring funds for a damage deposit and the first month’s rent before the so-called owner phoned to say there had been a flood in the suite and the move-in date would be delayed.

In another instance, a victim responded to a Craigslist ad about a building in the 800-block of Yates Street.

The victim viewed the unit and transferred a damage deposit before becoming suspicious and contacting the property manager, who said the suite was not for rent.

The property manager found the online ad and arranged a meeting with the man posing as the owner to view the unit, where he confronted the man and tried unsuccessfully to persuade the man to return the victim’s money.

Nanaimo RCMP warned apartment hunters in June 2022 of a rental scam in which a man lost several thousand dollars. Police said the victim responded to a rental ad on Zillow and paid two months’ rent in exchange for keys, but the keys were not delivered. The next day, he went to the home and found that it appeared occupied.

Doug King, executive director of the Together Against Poverty Society in Victoria, said scammers have been preying on people trying to find housing in the region’s “desperate rental market.”

They take advantage of people who are out of options, he said.

King said that young people and international students unfamiliar with how the rental system works are often the ones who end up getting victimized.

“This is kind of like the most extreme example,” he said of the Victoria case. “We see milder variations on this.”

Sometimes international students arrive with a false promise of a place to stay and having already paid a deposit, King said.

He said there are measures governments can take to prevent cases like this, where someone is pretending to be a landlord.

“One of the things that we’ve called for is that local governments should be licensing landlords and creating a really basic database where they’ve approved a landlord to operate as a landlord, to make it easy for someone to look up that person.”

jbell@timescolonist.com