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Hajra Saeed looks at a sign for the Ponderosa Commons building she thought she’d be living in. Photo: Bhagyashree Chatterjee.

Eight UBC students scammed by fraudulent Ponderosa sublets

A recent influx in on-campus sublet scams has caused UBC Housing to revisit sublet policies to protect vulnerable students.

By Phoebe Fuller and Savannah Parsons , in City UBC , on February 28, 2023

A version of this story was previously published in the UBYSSEY.

Zoë Boh thought she was in the right place at the right time when she found a listing for a sublet at the University of B.C.’s Ponderosa Commons.

Boh, a second-year arts student, was looking for a rental on the popular UBC-recommended Facebook group”‘UBC students looking for roommates, housing rentals/sublet” after seeing there were over 5,000 people ahead of her on the waitlist for student housing.

“So I got into [Facebook] and I was checking every second I could … because when these listings come out, because the market is so crazy right now, they’re gone within like an hour.”

On Dec. 9, Boh found a post from someone calling himself “Jack” just minutes after it was posted.

“Jack” sent Boh a picture of his room assignment email from Student Housing, a residential sublease agreement and a move-in date of Jan. 4. In return, she sent a $1,000 deposit — equivalent to almost an entire month’s rent — to secure the room.

In the new year, “Jack” stopped responding. That’s when Boh said she “got a really bad feeling.”

On the morning she was supposed to move in, Boh called the Ponderosa Commons front desk to confirm whether “Jack”’s room was available.

“They said, ‘Oh, we don’t have a room with that number on it.’”

That’s when it hit her — she had been scammed.

Boh is one of eight students who reported a fraudulent Ponderosa sublet to Student Housing this term. Students affected lost deposits between $700 to $1,700 trying to secure non-existent studios in Maple or Arbutus House.

Hajra Saeed, a third-year psychology major, said she responded to a sublet posting from someone calling himself “Jason” after feeling isolated living off-campus last term.

“Before where I was living, I didn’t like the place at all. I hadn’t decorated the room. And this time I was very happy. I ordered a lot of room decor. I was like, ‘I’m gonna make my place like home.’”

Saeed found “Jason”’s sublet in the same Facebook group as Boh, just one month earlier.

She said he seemed like a normal student — he asked for confirmation of enrolment and even negotiated the rent with her.

Saeed paid a $700 deposit, half of the agreed-upon rent.

She said she was looking forward to moving in on Dec. 23 until, suddenly, “Jason” stopped contacting her.

Like Boh, Saeed called Ponderosa to ask about the room.

“[A Ponderosa staff member] checked the unit and [said] the unit does not exist. She explained that a lot of other people had been calling too.”

By mid-December, a new listing under a third name appeared in the Facebook group, this time from someone calling himself “Jin.”

Two students who responded to “Jin” told The Ubyssey that they sent deposits of a full month’s rent, up to $1,700.

Students scammed by “Jack”, “Jason” and “Jin” all shared similar experiences. They found the listings on the same Facebook group, were sent similar photos of a fake UBC Housing email and signed nearly identical UBC sublease agreements.

Boh and Saeed had even been texting the exact same phone number on WhatsApp.

Hajra Saeed looks up at the Maple House building. Photo: Bhagyashree Chatterjee.
UBC Housing, RCMP respond

Before this recent influx, reports of rental scams on campus were “very rare,” said Andrew Parr, UBC’s associate vice-president of student housing and community services.

“Finding safe shelter is a very difficult thing right now, we can all recognize that,” said Parr. “So when students are seeking shelter or are vulnerable because they’re desperate for affordable housing, and then this situation happens, it’s very unwelcome. We really want to do what we can to limit this from happening.”

One action Student Housing is taking involves re-evaluating its existing sublet verification process.

Previously, Student Housing would only share information about sublets granted through official UBC channels, which many students don’t use.

Now, Parr said Student Housing is encouraging all prospective on-campus sublessees to contact it to confirm the sublessor’s residency status before sending any money.

Verification is one protective measure, but education is also key, said Ian Sim, a corporal at UBC’s RCMP detachment.

“Students are coming here for education. Some of the education they’re going to get is in life. And some of the lessons are going to be unpleasant. You know, a large percentage of problems can be avoided with knowledge ahead of time, with education, with awareness,” said Sim.

While some students did report the fraud, no arrests have been made — an outcome that’s not unusual for cases like these.

“The majority of them just come to a dead end. Money’s gone. There’s no way to trace it. It’s gone to a foreign country. It just stops and it’s very frustrating for us to watch people lose their rent or not have a place to live,” said Sim.

Boh and Saeed both found alternative housing off-campus.

Hoping to protect other students, Boh decided to share her experience on social media.

“Because [it’s an] embarrassing situation to be in, nobody really wants to talk about it,” said Boh. “That’s the reason a lot of people end up getting victimized later on. And I just thought, in that moment, ‘Okay, I’m willing to take on that embarrassment if it means that somebody else might be just a little bit more careful.’”