Idea in short

  • In such large cities as Hamburg, Berlin and Munich, it is difficult to find an attractive and cheap apartment without personal contacts.
  • This apartment bottleneck scenario has attracted fraudsters to skim unsuspecting apartment seekers.
  • The number of cases in which the supposed landlords have cheated apartment seekers is on the rise.

After a long search, you have found an apartment at a top location at a surprisingly fair price. But, never transfer a security deposit before the conclusion of the contract. Especially in large cities such as Hamburg, Berlin and Munich, it is difficult to find an attractive and cheap apartment without personal contacts. This scenario has attracted fraudsters to skim unsuspecting apartment seekers. In recent years, the number of cases of apartment scam have increased. In this scam, the supposed landlords advertise dream homes at low rental prices. When interested tenants contacted them, these landlords demanded security deposit to foreign accounts before concluding an official rental contract.

  • The most common rental scam we have witnessed over the past couple of years is people with no legal right to lease a property leasing it to a potential tenant (or many potential tenants) and making off with the security deposit, first months rent, and sometimes even prepaid rent as well.
  • Another variant on this scheme is charging many potential tenants fees for background checks and making off with that money. A typical fee for a background check is about € 50, charge that to tens or hundreds of potential renters and the thief can make out with a lot of money.

The brazen scam

The process is usually the same: it starts with an advertisement on the Internet, to which interested parties respond. In return, they receive an e-mail written in broken German, highlighting the advantages of the apartment. These landlords often state that the apartment is so cheap, because they just moved back to foreign countries and want to have done the job quickly.

At this point, the landlords usually declare that they had bad experiences with other interested parties in the past. For example, they might claim that, in the past, they had traveled to the apartment for a viewing with interested parties. However, the interested parties did not show up and the landlord was left in the lurch. To avoid such a scenario, they demand that the tenant make a security deposit or a month’s rent to a foreign account. Following this transfer, the tenants would receive the keys via post and can move in.

Convinced by the honest intentions of the landlord and excited about the bargain, the potential tenant transfers the security deposit, after which the communication goes silent. Never transfer money to foreign accounts – certainly not before conclusion of contract, let alone before visiting the apartment. Typically, the fraudsters insist on a cash transfer with Western Union. This guarantees the recipient a certain amount of anonymity, which makes it even more complicated to get paid money back.

What’s gone is gone

Although Western Union itself calls for caution, it offers no buyer protection, but recommends that victims contact the competent authorities. Be warned that banks can not simply retrieve your wire transfers even you carried out these transactions through your bank. Several websites have responded to such frauds by setting up filters to automatically detect and block suspicious ads.

In the end, there is no way around it, but to be careful when dealing with offers that sound too good to be true. Don’t let your guard down when looking for an apartment. Just because you use a reputable apartment search Web site doesn’t mean you can’t get scammed. If something feels wrong with a listing or the way things are proceeding, it may be prudent not to pursue it.

Summary

  • Scam artists tap into prospective tenants' emotions and vulnerabilities during the apartment-hunting process.
  • Prevention is always far better than trying to recover from a fraud after the fact.
  • In most cases, you will never see your money again and the criminal may get away.