05/13/2014 09:35 EDT | Updated 07/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Vancouver Tenant's Craigslist Scam Hits Prospective Renters

Vancouver police are investigating an alleged rental scam, after a woman posed as the owner of the suite she rented and took deposits from at least six prospective renters.

The woman — known variously as Ruby or Ebony Gifford, Amanda Higgins, Julie Petrie, Mandy and "Jackson" — has allegedly been posing as the owner of Unit 613 at 1330 Burrard Street.

After being shown around the bachelor suite, prospective tenants were then allegedly asked to hand over a damage deposit to secure the lease, unaware the woman was already renting the suite herself.

David Hunt said he handed over $500 deposit and thought he would be renting the suite for $925 per month — but at least five other people had also given the woman damage deposits.

"I went on Craigslist and I referred to an ad and I met a woman by the name of Ruby Gifford," said Hunt. "She seemed very sweet, she claimed that she owned the apartment that she showed me."

Hunt says he went to the apartment on multiple occasions to sort out the lease and measure up for furniture. He also asked for ID and a copy of the lease.

It was only later that Hunt realized the lease was fake and asked for his money back. The woman refused. Hunt is out $500, homeless and couch surfing at friends' places.

"It honestly blows my mind, the lengths people will go to in order to scam people out of their money," he said.

The CBC tried to contact Gifford at her apartment, but there was no answer.

'You can't do anything'

Tsveta Tchernokojeva, who arrived in Vancouver from Spain just a few weeks ago, was also fooled.

"I feel very bad and I want her to be caught because this is not good. Even when she did it to me, she was still doing it to more people," she said.

Tchernokojeva not only paid a $400 deposit, but also spent hundreds of dollars buying furniture and renting a car to help her move.

"I feel really bad, because she doesn't realize what she's doing....I'm feeling frustrated. You can't do anything," she said.

Landlord Salim Lakhani, who really owns the apartment, says he can't do much under the Residential Tenancy Act.

"I've got people who are alleging things that I can't verify...I've called the police about the allegations to try to follow up on them and I don't get a lot of response, just that they're investigating," he said.

Lakhani, who owns several properties, says he is an honest landlord who does things by the book, but he is left not really knowing what to do.

"If what is being said is true, of course we want to stop this, so there's not further victims," he said. "At the end of the day, no one wants to see anybody ripped off."

Lakhani urged anyone else who believes they may have been a victim of the alleged fraud to come forward.

Police investigating

Sgt. Randy Fincham says Vancouver police have had a number of complaints about the woman.

"It could amount to be a fraud. In this case, this is currently what investigators are looking at, is a fraud investigation in relation to this one woman," said Fincham.

Meanwhile, Hunt says he hopes the woman is held responsible for her actions.

"In a perfect world, everyone that has been affected by this would be able to get their money back," said Hunt.

"But I just want to spread awareness that this does happen, it isn't OK to do this to people. This is people's hard-earned money and you can't expect to take that from somebody and not be held accountable."

Police advise asking for ID, a driver's license or passport, to verify identities and check if others have been scammed by searching online.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

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