Updated on : 08-30-2022
In the current context, the increase in online fraud is creating a lot of excitement in the world of rental cottages, a new reality that is scaring tenants.
How do they do?
Amateur scammers still stick to the scheme I call “false ownership.” That is to say, an individual X publishes enticing offers for a property taken at random on the web, without displaying the number of the Corporation de l'industrie touristique du Québec (CITQ)1. Quickly, several reservations are made even before the tenants realize that the "owner" has vanished.
This scheme is no longer as popular because the multitudes of denunciations on social networks will have warned those most at risk of falling into the trap: we must always validate that there is a CITQ number and that it is valid2.
The CITQ number, guarantee of certainty?
Without discrediting the usefulness of the CITQ number, I will disappoint many by saying that a CITQ number displayed does not guarantee that you are not dealing with fraud.
More seasoned fraudsters are aware that this famous number generates trust among Quebecers and uses it to their benefit.
The CITQ number validation site (BonjourQuebec.com) is not always kept up to date by owners. Often, the request for CITQ was made even before the company had a telephone number and a website, which makes it unnecessary to validate on the site if the contact information is not valid or is simply non-existent. The only thing you can see is that there is indeed a chalet corresponding to the CITQ number.
A few weeks ago, on the respective Facebook groups Cottages for rent and Cottages for rent in Quebec, there were offers published in the name of “Diane Dujardin”. At first glance, the offer seems credible except that people are redirected to different email addresses each time and never have the same name as the person who publishes (common sign of fraud) . On the other hand, if you go to BonjourQuébec.com – the website on which to validate CITQ numbers – the numbers indicated in the advertisements do indeed exist and, to the delight of future tenants, the name of the chalet, as well as the number of stars correspond to the information in the ad.
The jackpot, really?
In this example, I took note of three different CITQ numbers that Diane Dujardin shared on social media. Of the three, only one had a functioning website, which actually led to a recognized management company. This chalet is displayed on ChaletsAuQuébec.com and most likely on other known platforms. At that time, it is safer to communicate via the contact details found on BonjourQuébec or on ChaletsAuQuébec.com rather than those in the ad on Facebook.
I tried to elucidate the scheme of this famous Diane Dujardin. You will see below the conversion (in French) I had with the person to whom we were referred on the publications. This attempt ended in a fishtail, and that was their goal. I joked about the inconsistent trade, but be aware that this strategy is calculated and works for several reasons that I explain later in the article.
What was their scheme?
My deduction is this:
The signals seem clear, but when we have been given confidence from the start, we do not expect it to be fraudulent and it is not wrong that demand is strong, so we have the reflex to want act quickly. Pressure is the key element on which all fraudsters rely.
How can I be sure that the offer is real?
Unfortunately, as the schemes become more refined with time and experience, it becomes difficult to be 100% certain of the validity of an offer, without making the new chalets on the market pay the price and/or the companies that are not yet digitally oriented.
Some aspects to analyze:
Chalet owners want to have visibility and be accessible, it is more advantageous for them to be on at least a few known platforms (Airbnb, ChaletsALouer.com, ChaletsAuQuebec.com, VRBO, Booking, etc.)
Whether it is a single owner, a group of owners, or a management company, the contact details are generally always the same because it is easier for management and follow-ups.
In the digital age, a Facebook page is very relevant, but is not yet used by many owners.
A Facebook page with recent posts, photos, information, and more than a hundred followers is a good indicator, provided that the contact details are the same as on all other platforms
Word of mouth is still a good way to promote a business and, for customers, to have confidence in it.
It may also be relevant to ask the question in the Facebook groups of chalet rentals to check if anyone has already stayed or heard of the chalet in question.
It should not be forgotten that in the new schemes, the fraudsters use the real names and numbers of existing chalets and therefore it is very likely that some have already stayed there. Ask for the contact details they used
Fraudsters have a modus operandi and don't often take off there. Which is good news. If it's complicated to get the information and it seems like a pre-written text, move on to the next one. ATTENTION, this aspect is subjective, chalet owners have a lot of requests, often have pre-written answers, and it can take a few days before returning an answer. We must therefore ask more specific questions to see if we get an answer or if we are systematically answered in a general way – as if we were dealing with a robot.
Another common element among fraudsters is that they wish to justify the generality of their information and thus, they dissociate themselves from it by presenting themselves as a “platform manager” or even a “commercial agent”. Some owners have handed over the management of their property(ies) to a management team, yes, but keep in mind that a management company relies on a business plan based ultimately on visibility, online marketing and user experience. If, as in the example above, the email address for this "platform" is a personal email address, and the management team does not have a website or logo: either the management team won't last long, either you're dealing with scammers
Again, this element can be an indicator, but keep in mind that there are certain reasons that lead an owner not to open other channels. That said, if several of the previous elements are present and you are unable to reach the owner other than by email, this is an additional sign of a possible fraud attempt.
If you are or have been the victim of fraud, stop blaming yourself. It is important to understand that anyone can be trapped and this is mainly based on the fact that as humans we let ourselves be carried away by the feeling of urgency.
If you feel you need to act quickly, it's because fraudsters are pushing you to act without having time to think and do your research. Hence the expression: it is too good to be true. When it's too good, we have to act quickly because we know that we are not the only ones interested. So we want to be the lucky one, and that's the most normal thing. However, this can unfortunately cost us dearly.
In conclusion, for any type of fraud, the key is to be vigilant and never be blinded by the sense of urgency. Unfortunately, the schemes will constantly adapt to our behaviors and it will be more and more difficult to detect them. The good news is that by no longer letting ourselves be carried away by the feeling of urgency, we give ourselves the power to check and think before acting.
Have you been the victim of such fraud? Did you manage to avoid a fraud attempt? Help others be vigilant and share your stories with us : firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Reference : https://citq.qc.ca/fr/index.php
2 To validate a CITQ number, visit BonjourQuébec and add the CITQ number in the search bar. if no results appear, it means that the number is not valid / does not exist.