Need a room for the fall semester? Ask Mr. Reum! Or don’t. Graphic by Alison Carpino.
Multiple students at the University of Rhode Island have been scammed by a fake housing opportunity while searching for off-campus housing for the 2021-22 academic year.
The fake landlord, using the alias Pete N. Reum, created a Facebook post on the URI Housing, Sublets and Roommates group offering students the opportunity to rent a one-to-two bedroom apartment at 10 Rolens Drive in Kingston, Rhode Island.
In a Facebook conversation with a URI student, Reum claimed that the rent for the two bed, two bath apartment was $1,500 a month and the single bedroom would only be $750 a month. Along with the promise that the apartment is fully furnished and the rent would include all utilities, the apartment seemed like a steal to many students looking for off-campus housing.
Between Narragansett’s housing ordinance, which limits rentals to no more than three college students, and the University getting rid of most triples, many returning students have been struggling to find housing for the next academic year.
Kendall Bousquet, a sophomore at URI, said that she has been “voraciously” searching for a place to live next year with her boyfriend. She said that the intensity of this search came from the fact that she and her boyfriend lost their housing assignments this past academic year and were forced to go fully online for their courses.
When a cheap, “great-looking” apartment became available, she jumped at the opportunity. However, after briefly speaking to Reum, Bousquet said that she knew it was a scam.
The landlord claimed that the apartment is located in the Tower Hill Landings complex. However, Bousquet had just visited that same apartment complex the day before she messaged Reum.
“The second he sent me it, I knew something was up,” she said. “It was the exact same address as the place we had visited the day prior, and after both meeting the owner and knowing that the pictures he sent were nearly the complete opposite of what their apartments looked like, I knew it was a scam.”
Bousquet immediately called him out and reported him to Facebook.
“He blocked me instantly, and I reported him to Facebook, but yet, against my better judgment, I didn’t make a post in the [Facebook] group,” she said. “As you know, there are many others who unfortunately got scammed out of a ton of money, and some who have even showed up to Tower Hill expecting to move in. My heart aches for everyone involved.”
Eman Khawja also posted to the Facebook group about their unfortunate experience with the fake housing opportunity.
After posting a brief description about the landlord and his offering, she told the group, “we signed the lease, he took my money and isn’t responding to my messages and has blocked me on [Facebook]. I filed a police report, and last time I checked, he left this group.”
Others in the Facebook group have added to this thread, saying that the same thing has happened to them. People have also said that this scam is taking place outside of Rhode Island at other universities, including Pennsylvania State University, where Reum posted in a similar group.
Skylar Santa Barbara, a junior at URI, said that she was also approached by the scammer. Luckily for her, she did not respond to his inquiry as she “didn’t like” the property. However, she did see this same property being posted multiple times under different Facebook users.
Dawn Viola, a parent of a student looking for housing, said that she had an interaction with the scammer as well but under a different name on Facebook.
“I had exchanged Facebook messages with him regarding a property, but we were just looking at the time,” Viola said. “I declined when he asked if I wanted to secure the apartment.”
Viola said that he used the name Robert Tarani. All information has been passed along to the police and those who have experienced this scam, or others, are encouraged to contact the police with information.
According to police Detective Lt. Montafix W. Houghton IV at the South Kingstown Police Department, the housing scam is actively under investigation. At this point, details on the investigation aren’t available, but more information will become available later in the course of the investigation.