How to avoid online scams when looking for a room


Updated on Jan 20 • 4 minute read

Just thinking about moving abroad to a new city, finding housing and settling in feels like quite an adventure! Living in a new place can produce its fair share of complications, but in the end, whether you’re relocating to study at a university, take on an exciting internship or begin a new career at a startup, it’s all completely worth it! You’ll meet interesting new people, try foods you’ve only seen on TV and find yourself immersed in eye-opening cultures. If anything, moving abroad is life-changing! Sounds like fun yet?

A huge part of taking off to another city will be choosing the ideal room or apartment, and this is also where you’re going to allocate the largest portion of your budget. However, this can also be the area where things can get a little complicated, especially with the rise in scams when renting housing abroad.

Unfortunately, you read that correctly. Scammers have come up with all sorts of ways to cheat young people who are moving abroad, and it doesn’t seem as if they’ll be stopping anytime soon. However, you can educate yourself on the methods that they use, so that you always know what to look for when you’re dealing with landlords and rental agreements. Here are a few ways that scammers try to take advantage of potential tenants, and how to avoid them.

Be very careful on Facebook, it is not a rental platform

While Facebook can be a great source for gaining information on choosing a great city for digital nomads or finding groups of other like-minded expats, you should never attempt to work out a rental on this or any other social media platform. Scammers on Facebook are some of the most successful when it comes to international housing, especially when you are trying to avoid paying the high commissions charged when working with a real estate agent.

While there are numerous scammers on Facebook running all sorts of online cons, there are a few telltale signs to watch out for during your search.

  • A new or sparse profile: If the so-called landlord that you are communicating with has a new profile, or even one with very few friends or activity, then it may have the potential to be a scam. Scammers can’t cheat numerous tenants from the same profile for long, so they are constantly creating new profiles and moving their scam on to new groups of potential tenants.
  • Hurry to be paid: Scammers are very insistent about receiving your payment right away. In fact, they’ll often invent other tenants who want to rent the property right away. Some may go as far as to say they’re going to rent to you because they “like you better,” just as long as you can pay first. This type of behavior is almost always a sure sign that you’re dealing with a scammer.
  • They become annoyed easily: If the “landlord” that you’re dealing with seems to get annoyed when you ask for additional images or perhaps even a video, then it could be a red flag. Scammers want to take your money quickly and move on to the next potential victim, so slowing them down by asking them to upload documents or pictures is enough to create some agitation.
  • They have the same advertisements in several different markets: Some scammers on Facebook don’t waste time getting creative with new listings. Instead, they will go as far as to post the same or very similar listings in multiple cities. It doesn’t hurt to run a quick online search with the landlord's name to see if they have multiple advertisements in different groups or regions.

Never wire money

Even though there are signs posted at Western Union or your money-transfer company of choice, you’d be surprised how many people of all ages and walks of life transfer funds to a complete stranger. Even if you have a rental agreement, keep in mind that it is reduced to a meaningless piece of paper when you’re dealing with a scammer.

Also, be wary if you are ever asked to mail a prepaid Visa to a P.O. Box. The same rule applies. A real landlord will accept a variety of payment methods and would never ask you to wire money.

If it seems too good to be true…

Although this saying may be a bit old, scammers are still finding new, creative ways to make you forget its relatability. Scammers may post listings that are a hundred euros lower than other properties, just to get your attention. If you question the price, they typically fabricate all sorts of excuses as to why they need to rent the property right away, so they have drastically reduced the price. Some lines to look out for specifically include situations involving the previous tenant, such as:

  • They left for a family emergency
  • They were in an accident and can no longer pay the rent
  • They joined the military
  • Their wife/husband died and they left the key to their lawyer

Unprofessional rental agreement

Even though the property may not even exist, the scammer will still probably produce a rental agreement, but perhaps only if pushed to do so. Many scammers will definitely make paying the first month’s rent more of a priority.

However, while they might make an effort to send over what appears to be a real housing contract, they may not request the documents that are typically expected when renting a property. These may change by the country to which you’re moving, but typically include:

  • Photo identification
  • Proof of study or employment
  • Bank statements or other proof of income
  • Statement from a guarantor (if you do not have your own income)

Be sure to take these tips when you’re moving abroad and apply them to your search methods so that you don’t fall victim to an online rental scam. Just as you purchase travel insurance when moving abroad, use these warning signals as your insurance against scammers. However, the best way to be certain that you’re not being scammed is to work with a trusted housing platform. Unlike with real estate agents, you won’t have to pay high, unexpected fees. Plus, you'll be notified whenever properties that match your preferences are listed.

Good luck with your housing search, and enjoy your time living abroad!

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