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 attractive and cheap apartments. This challenging scenario has attracted fraudsters to scam unsuspecting apartment seekers.
Recently, the number of cases of apartment scam has increased. In this scam, the supposed landlords advertise dream apartments at low rental prices. When interested tenants contact the landlords, the latter demand a security deposit to a foreign bank account before they concluded an binding and official rental contract.
- The most common rental scam we 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, which is, usually, the first months rent.
- 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. Multiply this charge by tens or hundreds of potential, unsuspecting tenants and the thief makes away 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 email written in broken German. The email highlights the advantages and features of the apartment. The landlords often state that the apartment is so cheap, because they just moved back to a foreign countries. All they want is a quick rental process.
At this point, the landlords usually cite the bad experiences they had with their past prospects. For example, they might assert that they traveled to the apartment for a viewing with interested parties. However, the prospects stood them up and the landlord was left in the lurch. To avoid such a scenario, they require that prospects transfer a security deposit or a month’s rent to a foreign account. Subsequently, 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. However, they recommend 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 apartments. Just because you use a reputable apartment search website doesn’t mean you can’t get scammed. If something feels wrong at the way things are proceeding, it may be prudent not to pursue it.