The victim of a rental scam in Nelson wants the community to learn from his mistake.
Saurabh Modi moved to Canada from India in May. The 30 year old lives in Castlegar but works at the Husky gas station in Nelson, where he’s been trying to find an apartment to cut down on the commute time.
Modi thought he’d found a place in early November. A listing on local rental site ilovenelson.com showed a one-bedroom apartment available for $1,100 at Alpine Lake Suites, 1102 Gordon St.
That apartment doesn’t exist.
Modi agreed to pay rent for the first and last month up front, along with a security deposit totalling $3,300, to Paul Hartley and Olasupo Kuye despite not having seen the apartment nor having met the landlords.
“[Hartley] told me he’s in Kelowna,” said Modi. “[I was asked] to deposit the cash in his account then he will come visit to show the house. I’m new to Canada so I believe in that word.”
In an email exchange, Modi asked Hartley to provide him with ID.
“I am 64 years of age and I have been in a real-estate business for more than 35 years. No tenant has ever requested for my ID and I will never do that,” replied Hartley.
“If you need to see the proof of ownership of the apartment before moving in, sure that will be shown to you when we meet at the apartment, but sending my ID to anyone, [I] won’t do that.”
Modi agreed anyway and sent Hartley the money. That was the last contact he had with him.
Alpine Lake Suites is actually owned by Anne Gover and her husband William Main, who currently live in Pincher Creek, Alta., and employ a manager to run the building.
When contacted by the Star, Gover confirmed the listing is fake and that the apartment advertised doesn’t even exist in the building.
“Alpine Lake Suites had no involvement in this ad and is an additional victim of this scam artist,” Gover said in an email.
The ad Modi responded to has since disappeared from the website.
Calls to the number provided in the ad went unanswered, but Hartley responded to an inquiry about the same apartment from an email account set up by the Star. He said he would only accept electronic deposits, would not meet with a third party in Kelowna and would not set up an appointment prior to payment.
The address supplied by Hartley and Kuye in the lease agreement, 510 Buckland Ave. in Kelowna, is a real apartment building.
An internet search shows apartment listings under Hartley’s name, as well as the name Paul Hart and the email address firstname.lastname@example.org have previously been flagged as scams as far away as San Francisco.
Sgt. Nate Holt of the Nelson Police Department said officers have seen a rise in rental scam reports — Modi reported his after it became clear he had lost his money — but are usually unable to investigate them unless the person behind the scam is known to live in the region.
“A lot of times these accounts are set up through a proxy and held up to be in the City of Nelson but they are overseas,” said Holt. “When it comes to that, it’s very difficult with our capability and capacity of a small department to really solve the crimes.”
Holt said he advises apartment hunters to make sure either they or a friend see the listed space in person first and also meet the landlord before making any deposit.
After this story was published online, Modi told the Star he found a place to live in Nelson.