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Police arrest two suspects, looking for more victims in string of Victoria rental frauds

Frauds start with online ads for rental suites and have involved suspects meeting with victims, calling victims’ references and giving out phoney key fobs, police say

Victoria police have arrested two suspects and are asking victims to come forward after discovering a number of rental frauds that have cost people tens of thousands of dollars.

Police say they have been receiving reports for some time about what they are calling “sophisticated” rental frauds with similar suspect descriptions and methods.

Investigators believe there are more victims, given the scope of the frauds and their “brazen” nature, said police spokesman Bowen Osoko. “We need those people to come forward.”

The frauds have involved online ads for rental suites, with communication coming largely through emails and texts. The frauds often play out for weeks or months and also involve suspects meeting with victims, calling victims’ references and giving out phoney key fobs, police said.

On Monday, one of the fraud victims called police to say he had seen a man who previously defrauded him at a business in the 1000-block of Pandora Avenue. Police located the man, who gave a false name but was recognized by an officer from a previous encounter and taken into custody.

The man was already wanted on a warrant related to a previous series of frauds and faced 36 fraud-related charges.

He was taken to police cells and released on conditions with a future court date.

Other cases include one reported June 24 by a victim who responded to a ­Craigslist ad in March. The fraudster claimed to own a suite in a multi-unit residential building in the 1600-block of Quadra Street.

After the victim transferred funds for a damage deposit and the first month’s rent, the so-called owner called to say there had been a flood in the suite and the time for moving in would be delayed.

A key fob that would supposedly take a few days to activate was provided but did not work, and the suite in question turned out to be a short-term vacation rental occupied by someone else.

On Sept. 1, another victim responded to a Craigslist ad about a suite in a building in the 800-block of Yates Street. The victim was shown the suite but became suspicious after transferring a damage deposit, and contacted the property manager, who said the suite was not for rent.

The property manager then found the ad online and arranged for a meeting with the same suspect to see the unit. Realizing a fraud was taking place, the property manager confronted the suspect and was able to get the person on speakerphone with the victim to arrange the return of the money that had been handed over

The money has so far not been given back.

The suspect is described as white and five-foot-eight with dark brown stubble for hair. He had a medical mask, a cap and painted fingernails, and was wearing tight jeans, a buttoned shirt and a necklace.

A second suspect in the case was arrested Sept. 2 after police executed a search warrant at the suite. More evidence of fraud in the building was found, as well.

Call Victoria police at 250-995-7654, extension 1, with any information or report anonymously to Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

jbell@timescolonist.com