Two arrests, goods seized in rental scam linked to COVID-19: Victoria police

VICTORIA — Two men are under investigation on Vancouver Island and a large amount of stolen property has been seized after what Victoria police say was an attempted scam that started with a claim of a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Police say they were contacted Saturday by an AirBnB host concerned about a guest who claimed to have severe symptoms of the new coronavirus.

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The host had initially allowed the man to stay in the rental unit for free after being told of the apparent diagnosis but called police after learning the man had left the unit.

Officers located the man and were assured he was not carrying the virus, but when they returned to the AirBnB unit they discovered thousands of dollars in stolen property and a second man wanted on several warrants.

Both men denied any knowledge of the stolen property, which has been seized as police begin the process of trying to return the goods to the original owners.

Police say the man wanted on warrants is now being held by Saanich police while the investigation continues.

A statement from Victoria police reminds operators of short-term vacation rentals to be extra vigilant during the pandemic.

"On Friday, we issued a release warning AirBnB owners and members of the public that scammers were attempting to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic," the statement says.

Police say some safety measures for short-term rental operators include meeting all guests in person, verifying their government-issued identification, requiring payment in advance and setting a minimum length of stay.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2020.

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