In the last years of my life, I have experienced how hard is to find a flat for renting in some big cities, such as Brussels, Belgium and Hamburg, Germany.
One of the reasons for this is that in the flat rental market, there is more demand than flats available. Another reason is that there are many frauds on flat search websites. It is not easy to control efficiently every offer that is published. Most of this platforms warn users about the danger and provide some advices to avoid it.
My aim with this post is to make you aware and give you some advices on how can you do a step further on finding out scams.
I will use Google and WG-Gesucht platform for demonstration, because they were my tools of choice when searching for a real flat. I believe that you can use other search engines, with other flat search platforms, for the same purpose, with similar results.
Also, this article is focused on flat rentals, but I am sure that you can use your imagination to detect other kind of frauds.
What is the main sign of a fraud in the flat rental market?
One of the most common signs that you are contacting a fraudulent advertiser is when the landlord says that is not currently in the city or lives abroad. They can be very convincing, with really good made up stories and requests that will make you believe that it can’t be a scam. Here is one example I’ve received some days ago (names, address and prices removed – this is just for demonstration):
I just read your e-mail regarding my apartment located in (…, Hamburg).
It has 2 rooms : 1 bedrooms, 1 bathrooms, 1 kitchen and 1 living room (m65² )
My name is (…). I’m a singel mother from Stockholm, Sweden. My husband die last year .
The apartment was bequeathed to my son from his father.We always lives here in Stockholm and we don’t use the apartment from Germany.This is the reason that I decide to rent him .The apartment is in the best conditions, it is newly furnished and equipped with all the dependencies.Also the apartment is near the public transportation,a gym, and other facilities.There are no problems if you have any pets, as long as you clean up after them. The apartment has a parking space for one car.My request is that you treat it like it was your own. I am not interested to make a lot of money from the rent as I am interested to find a tenant that will take good care of the property , because it’s all that I have from my husband.
You can use my furniture, or you can also use your own if you prefer. If you decide to use yours, you can store my furniture in the large basement cellar. Also, very important, the utilities (water, electricity,Internet, digital TV,etc) are included in the rent of (…) euro.
The caution is (…) euro and you will get it back when you will move out (I will need a 30 days notice).
I would like to know how many persons you intend to share the flat with, and for how long.
Any other details about yourself would be appreciated.
So I guess this is it for now, I hope I didn’t forget anything.
Friendly greetings from the Sweden!
I was convinced that it could be true. But, my experience told me to make a little research, considering that the person is not in town.
What can I do to find out a scam?
The search engines, such as Google and Bing, have indexed data from most of the accessible (and allowed to index) webpages on the Internet. The flat search websites are also indexed by them from time to time, to keep their databases updated. When you search for a flat on Google, it is very probable that the flat search websites will be on the first result’s page.
A first step do detect a fraud is to search on this engines for a paragraph from the advertised flat’s description. Another step is to do the same with the landlord’s email. If one of the results lead you to another advertised flat which has the same text and nothing to do with the one you saw, then you probably found a fraud. Other interesting result might be from other people’s posts on forums, mentioning emails which they received and are probably frauds. Take a look at the search I have done with the email aforementioned.
Another great functionality, introduced by the search engines some years ago, is the image search. The idea was to index the images from the websites, so that they could be searchable. By dropping an image on the image search bar, the search engines will try to look up all the images that have similarities the posted one.
This functionality can be used also with the advertised pictures of flats. It will show you if there is any other flat advertisement with the same pictures. It is very unlikely that two flats look exactly the same. For this reason, if you find other announcements with the same picture, for a different city, you have probably found a fraud. See the following search results.
As you can see, the same room is in Amsterdam, Hamburg and, perhaps, Berlin. Either the designer is the same or it is definitely a fraud.
How can I help cleaning up scams?
Most of the flat search websites provide you a way to report a suspicious advertisement. In WG-Gesucht, as an example, you can find a link on the bottom of the Ad, as you can see in the screenshot.
By doing so, you are warning the website administrators, which will analyse the reported Ad and will shut it down if proven to be a fraud. Use this knowledge to help yourself and also other people in the same situation.
Did you have some bad experiences with frauds? Do you have another methods for fraud detection? Share your experience.
Stay tuned and thank you for coming!