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The internet breeds fraud

Since moving to Vancouver I have been no stranger to some of the problems new tenants in this city experience. …

By Heather Amos , in Vancouver's bitter suite life? , on January 13, 2009 Tags: , , , ,

Since moving to Vancouver I have been no stranger to some of the problems new tenants in this city experience.  Nonetheless I feel I am one of the lucky ones.  I’ve never been crammed into a one bedroom house with five other people and I’ve never been evicted without warning or reason.  But why do these horror stories exist?
Vancouver has been named one of the best cities to live in the world and top in Canada.  Residents experience a high quality of living.  As Vancouver’s popularity grows, so does it’s migrant population.  People from the rest of Canada, and all over the world, move to Vancouver and give the West coast lifestyle a try.  As the rental market has grown, the good, the bad and the very, very ugly have emerged.

Free, online classifieds, aka Craigslist and Kijiji, allow for fraud and are used as a tool by scam artists.  As a Craigslist fan, having used it to find a good bed and roommate, I find it hard to admit it is part of the problem.

Before the development of an online tool like Craigslist, the best options for finding housing included newspaper classifieds, word of mouth and signs.  The internet has amplified the ability for bad things to happen to good people by decreasing the number of filters advertisements have to flow through.

To post an advertisement for a roommate on Craigslist, the only personal information I needed to supply was an email address.  To submit a classified for the Vancouver Sun, I would have to supply my full name, phone number and address.  Furthermore this personal information is filtered by a person, you can speak to someone directly, or if you give this information online, someone will call you.

There is also no fee to post ads online.  Many newspapers charge a fee for publishing a classified ad in their newspaper.  Even a small fee and having to provide payment would deter scam artists.  With a fee this means that fraud now has a cost and there is a way to trace the act through the payment.

Scams occur online because of the lack of moderation.  If something goes into a newspaper, it has been read by somebody.  Craigslist, and other online classifieds, work differently in the sense that if fraud is expected peers can “flag” a post or ad. They can also post warnings, but ultimately, there is no one there reading every post looking for legitimacy.

Craigslist is popular with over 900 new housing ads for Vancouver on Jan. 12th.  The sheer volume means that it would be impossible to filter these the same way newspaper classifieds are filtered.  In order to avoid scams and fraud, the best policy is education.  If you choose to use the internet as a tool to find housing, it is important to be aware of the way scam artists are using it as a tool too.