Scams involving rental apartments are becoming more prevalent as the rental market in major German cities becomes more competitive. What can you do as an expat in Germany to avoid becoming a victim of these scams?
I was in search of a new apartment in Munich after the arrival of our baby last year. A fake advertiser recently contacted me offering a rather costly apartment for a lower price in a relatively expensive area. As I read the emails received from the advertiser, I understood the scam and played him a little bit. After a couple of emails with me, he should have realized that I found out about his foul play, so he stopped contacting me.
Beware of fake advertisers
A common scam involves advertising for apartments that don't exist. It has been found that these types of ads appear on all of the major rental portals, including Immowelt and immobilienscout24. In order to attract potential victims, fraudsters often advertise apartments for surprisingly low rents in relatively hot areas.
It might be a good idea to be skeptical if the rent offered is much lower than similar offerings in the same area. Additionally, read the description carefully and compare it with the images in the advertisement. There is a high chance that the advertisement is fake if the images and the description contradict each other.
Furthermore, do your research before contacting the advertiser for a viewing appointment.
A fraud involving an advance payment
The practice of requesting advance payments is particularly prevalent in Germany.
Often fraudsters request the victims to transfer a portion of the deposit to their bank account or paypal in order to offer a viewing. They convince you by telling you that the deposit is to filter and reduce the number of people coming for the viewing. In addition, you will be told that if the apartment isn't offered to you, the money will be refunded.
You should never pay anything before the contract is signed. No legit owners ask you to pay in advance before signing the contract.
Unless you are absolutely sure that the owner is legit, do not pay by cash. Instead, use bank transfers. It is very unlikely that you will get your money back if you pay in cash or use another form of money transfer.
Taking advantage of your identity
This is what I was asked to do by the fake advertiser. They do not ask you to transfer money to a bank account abroad. You are instead asked to provide copies of your passport, visa, pay stubs, and bank statements.
Additionally, you will be asked to send a picture of yourself holding your passport or national ID and claim that this is for verification.
This personal information can then be used by fraudsters to open bank accounts, obtain loans, apply for credit cards and leave you high and dry.
These kinds of scams are very difficult to identify at an early stage as these documents are often asked by landlords and other real estate agencies before preparing the contract.
Therefore, it is recommended that personal documents are not shared unless the landlord specifically requests them. Make sure that the person asking for your passport and visa is trustworthy before sharing them.
What should I do if I believe I have been scammed?
If you are contacted by a scammer, or if you’ve come across a potential fake advertisement on an online portal, make sure to report it at the earliest. Thus, you are probably taking precautions to ensure your safety and that of others using the platform as well
In the event that you have been the victim of a scam, you should contact the police immediately. You can either walk into a nearest police station or file a complaint online.