Two 19-year-old friends from Fort St. John were stoked about moving to Kamloops together this fall.
Max Boettcher would take a job as a plumber while Tyler Kozak was enrolled in business administration at Thompson Rivers University.
The road trip was organized and accommodations were paid for — or so they thought.
It wasn’t until they were two hours away from town that they suspected they’d been victims of a rental scam.
“I’d never ever heard about a scam like this before,” said Kozak in an interview on Thursday. “My landlady now tells me it’s been all over the news.”
However the students weren’t conned in the all-too familiar way through an online ad.
They had a personal connection with their thief.
A friend of Kozak’s mother connected them by phone to the manager of a building on Columbia Street.
The young men arranged the rental with the manager, then gave $1,400 in cash to the friend, who said he was on his way to Kamloops.
“(The manager) told us that when we got to Kamloops we’d meet for dinner and he’d give us the keys and we’d sign a lease,” said Kozak.
They didn’t have the manager’s phone number. On Sept. 1, as they approached Kamloops, they called the building management’s number.
That’s when they were told that there was no record of their names or their deposit.
They were stuck in an unfamiliar city with nowhere to stay and no money.
But Boettcher’s mother had a close friend in Kamloops who had promised to watch out for her son.
Pamela Clarke, herself a new resident to the city, put out a plea on the Random Acts of Kamloops Kindness Facebook page hoping someone could help.
“All of a sudden, up came all these people offering their place to stay or advice for where to turn,” said Clarke, who estimates that about 60 residents reached out.
She said the response was heartening.
“It was the first time these boys left home so to start out like that, you get the feeling it’s always going be like that,” said Clarke. “But now I could tell them that this is a very beautiful city with beautiful people.”
In the end, charity wasn’t needed and the young men were able to find a basement apartment in North Kamloops on the evening they arrived. But Kozak’s mom had to take out an advance on her credit card to cover the cost.
They tried repeatedly to phone the Fort St. John man who stole from them, but to this day haven’t been able to reach him. And police have told them they have no recourse since there’s no record of the financial transaction.
It was a hard lesson.
“Never deal in cash,” said Kozak.
Kozak and Boettcher are now settled and getting into the routine of school and work. But they’ll never forget their introduction to Kamloops — bad and good.