Whistler's army of temporary workers who often face a mad scramble for accommodation at the resort now have to contend with international fraudsters offering fake rental properties on Craigslist.
Jesse Nelson, a 21-year-old office manager with a local ski school, was desperate to find a place to share with a friend. He answered an advertisement for a three-bedroom house on the classified ad website on July 31, after spending several fruitless weeks looking in local newspapers.
He was attracted by the rent, $2,200 per month, and the prospect that he could lease it for up to two years. He sent an e-mail to the address provided, and was told a Whistler couple, Kim and Cheryl Craig, were out of the country while Mr. Craig went to Nigeria for missionary work. Ms. Craig, he was told, was living in Miami and held the documents and keys to the property.
"It really piqued my interest. They said they wanted to rent it for up to two years, and I thought that was cool because I was worried about accommodation during the Olympics," he said.
After providing them with background information and references, he was told to send them $2,200 by Western Union, which alarmed him.
"I was definitely concerned. It's like signing cash to somebody. At that point, he wanted it sent to his Nigerian assistant, to Lucas Y. Adeyemo, Kim Craig's assistant in Sango Ota, Nigeria," Mr. Nelson said.
He requested more information on the "house" and was given an address that turned out be a condominium at Whistler Creek Lodge. He visited it and found someone else living there who had never heard of the Craigs.
Now aware that it was likely a scam, Mr. Nelson refused to send the money without more information, and e-mails from Miami and Nigeria became increasingly belligerent as he questioned their requests for money. Several phone calls were made, and a non-existent U.K. lawyer was brought in to provide a reference.
When he finally told them he had visited the property and discovered someone else living there, all contact between the parties ceased.
A woman answering the phone at the Miami number provided by Mr. Nelson hung up when The Globe and Mail called. Mr. Adeyemo, it turns out, has been implicated in the United States in a fraudulent dog-selling scam, which has taken hundreds of dollars from people.
In 2007, the Better Business Bureau for eastern Washington, north Idaho and Montana issued an alert about the dog scheme, which attempted to get money from purchasers through Western Union. Several months later, a Nigerian man of the same name tried to sell a bulldog puppy to a family in Kennewick, Wash., who later went to the local newspaper, the Tri-City Herald.
An article in that paper said Mr. Adeyemo had offered up an 11-year-old English bulldog for free in a classified listing, but later asked for $300 to pay for shipping to the nearest airport.
Mr. Nelson now wants to share what happened to him as he believes some Whistler workers might be desperate enough to fall for the fraud. He said he wasted almost two weeks corresponding with the scammers.
"I am still looking for a place and when I visited a basement suite for rent on Saturday, the owner said that she had received 40 e-mails the first day her ad appeared in the local newspaper," he said. "The competition is heavy."
As of yesterday, there were 43 rental properties in and around Whistler listed on Craigslist. The website provides guidelines on how its users can avoid scams and fraudsters.
Staff Sergeant Steve Leclair of Whistler RCMP said his detachment had received at least three other calls about the Craigslist advertisement. Fortunately, none had been ripped off, he said.
"It becomes very expensive to send investigators to other countries. We can make requests through Interpol to Nigerian investigators to enquire on our behalf."
However, even if wrongdoing is suspected, Canada and Nigeria do not have an extradition treaty. He hoped the implausibility of the fraudsters' story would alarm would-be tenants.
"They are very crude schemes and you'd have to be pretty gullible to be taken in by this particular group. There are too many flags," he said.