Finding accommodation as a student is not always easy. That is especially true for Europe's metropolitan hot spots like London, Paris, Berlin or Stockholm, where you may end up paying more rent for half a wall-closet than some people pay for row-houses in small-city suburbs. But beware: Rental scammers prey on your desperation in finding an apartment. And the fact that you may have to find a flat from across the continent or globe does not help.
Study.EU has compiled a list of tell-tale signs that someone is trying to get the better of you. Watch out if you come across any of these:
It is rare to come across good samaritans among landlords. But it certainly won’t happen online, if for one simple reason: No one in their right mind would put up a 250 euro-per-month flat in Munich because their computer or phone would blow up within minutes from all the people trying to reach them. That is not to say that you can never find a bargain of a rent, but scammers often put in ridiculously low rents as an eye-catcher. Don’t fall for it.
At the heart of the scammer’s game is making you pay money for a flat that does not exist - which you usually cannot check if you are from out of town, or from another country. Or the flat does exist but the supposed landlord does not actually have access to it. You would only find out the hard way. The simplest rule therefore: If you pay up-front, you need to be absolutely, one hundred per-cent sure that the recipient is legitimately going to actually rent out their apartment or room to you.
In many cases, rental fraud employs money transfer channels you may not be familiar with. Many rental con-men for instance ask for pre-payment of a deposit via Western Union or a similar payment provider. This is usually because, as they are not based in the country they would have you believe, they cannot set up a traditional bank account there. And even if they could, that would have a real name attached to it. Plus: If you have never transferred money via Western Union, you may be oblivious of the specific risks attached, making you more vulnerable.
It often happens that scammers adopt fake identities. In many cases, those are British, even though the offered apartment may be in another country. That’s because then they have an excuse to communicate in English while some of their potential victims may know Swedish, German or whatever is the local language. Yet English is not always really the scammer’s first language, and sometimes it shows. Your potential landlord claims to be a Londoner, yet can’t spell “handkerchief”? While unusual wording or spelling mistakes on their own may not be anything to worry about, take them as a pointer to be on the lookout for other clues.
Being suspicious about your potential landlord, you may google him or her and find a real person. But even with such evidence you may still be in for a surprise: Rental scammers are often also identity thieves. That is especially true for countries like Sweden where everyone can easily obtain other people's personal information through official channels. If you cannot meet your landlord in person, you should confirm his or her identity through their mobile number or e-mail address by cross-checking with an independent source which a scammer could not possibly have faked.
Or, even better, try to convince them to Skype. If you can confirm their contact data or portrait shot on a trustworthy website (and that does not include social networks like Facebook), you considerably lower your risk of being exposed to a rental scam. But in any case, you still should not send money before you have seen the apartment!