Fake apartments for rent on the Internet: Easily recognize fake real estate advertisements
Fake apartments for rent: Criminals use the popularity of real estate portals to cash in on fake ads. Which scams are common and how you can protect yourself against real estate fraud on the Internet.
Fake apartments for rent on the internet are frustrating for Expats in Germany
- With fake real estate advertisements in popular portals, criminals want to get your money or your data.
- Tempting-sounding dream properties at comparatively low prices are an indication of fake advertisements.
- When looking for an apartment, do not pay in advance under any circumstances: never pay for an apartment that you have not yet seen.
Anyone looking for a new apartment can hardly ignore the relevant real estate portals. But fraudsters have also discovered real estate portals for themselves and their purposes and are trying to cash in with fake apartment advertisements, phishing emails and the like.
We provide an overview of the scams used to deceive apartment hunters, how you can recognize fake ads when looking for accommodation and what you can do if you have already become a victim of real estate fraudsters.
Scams: How apartment hunters are deceived
A newly renovated 4-room apartment in a top location, including a parking space, for less than 600 euros – sounds too good to be true? In most cases it is, unfortunately! Because behind the supposed dream property at a bargain price there are often fraudsters. As a rule, the perpetrators aim for private data or money transfers from the apartment hunter and try to collect money for non-existent bogus apartments. The scams are becoming more and more sophisticated and diverse:
The trick with prepayment
A common scenario: the alleged owner contacts the apartment hunter and informs them that he is abroad and cannot come to view the property. He offers to send the key for the apartment viewing by post or to hand it over through an intermediary. As a deposit for this, you should transfer money in advance. As soon as the transfer has been made, you will neither receive a suitable apartment key nor an answer from the alleged landlord.
Cash on delivery fee
Even if the owner sends you the apartment key first, you should not transfer any money until you have at least seen the apartment. If the key is sent by cash on delivery, you will at least be left with the cash on delivery fee. In addition, it does not say that the key will fit in the door lock at all. Provided that the advertised property even exists.
In some cases, you are offered a property directly for rent without you having ever viewed it. A rental deposit is only due once you have actually signed a rental agreement. If you are asked by a supposed owner to pay a deposit in advance, it is better to keep your hands off the property.
Invoice for apartment viewing
Especially in regions where the housing shortage is particularly great, interested parties are happy about every apartment viewing they are invited to. Some real estate fraudsters take advantage of this plight and are already charging you money to pre-select you for a fake property.
On behalf of real estate portals, fraudsters are increasingly sending so-called phishing emails in order to spy on the personal data of real estate portal customers. In the e-mails you will usually be asked to log in using a link sent with your access data for the real estate portal or to open a sent attachment. If you log in using the link, you will be taken to a fake log-in page through which fraudsters can intercept your access data. Attached files can also contain malware.
Copy of identity card
Some fraudsters ask for a copy of your identity card to send as an email attachment. You shouldn’t do that: With the ID card, fraudsters can use your identity in illegal business.
This is how you can recognize fake ads when looking for an apartment
Too low prices
An indication of fake real estate advertisements are unusually low purchase and rental prices. The local rent index published by the municipalities provides information about how realistic a rental price is. Using these guide values, you can better estimate the rent, especially as a non-resident.
Alarm signal: prepayment
Regardless of whether you want to send the key to the apartment or for a viewing: As soon as you are asked to pay money in advance, you should be skeptical. Reputable brokers or owners will not charge you any money before viewing the property.
Contradictions between images and text
Always read real estate advertisements with a healthy dose of skepticism and check the apartment advertisements for possible contradictions between images and text. This is especially true – but not only – for bargains.
Pictures like from the prospectus
Many real estate fraudsters try to impress you with appealing real estate pictures like from the prospectus . However, the photos are often copied images from the Internet, for example from digital furniture store catalogs. You can easily expose this scam: To do this, upload the image in Google’s reverse image search . After activating the search, you can see here whether and where the image is still being used in the network.
Bad German and inquiries in English
An indication of the subject of fraud can be sentences in bad German or an accumulation of grammar and spelling errors. Since fraudsters often operate from abroad, they often use translation programs. Although these have become better and better in recent years, poor language quality and spelling can still make attentive readers skeptical. Another possible sign that this is a fake property listing is inquiries in English.
Copied advertisement text
Real estate fraudsters often copy their advertisement texts together from real, existing real estate advertisements. To check, enter parts of the text or the headline in a search engine: If a very similar advertisement – but with different contact details – appears on other portals, you should be careful.
Serious providers usually provide information on the amount of the rent, both warm and cold, as well as the energy certificate in their advertisements. If only a warm rent is given, this can be an indication of a fake apartment. You should also be suspicious if there is no specific contact person or no imprint on the property provider’s website. If a telephone number is given, it is worth checking whether the number has actually been assigned.
Do not open any attachments in emails that end in .exe – neither from alleged apartment or house providers nor from the real estate portal itself. They can come from real estate fraudsters and contain malware or Trojans. Also, pay attention to the sender’s email address: Real estate fraudsters often use email addresses with conspicuous domains for their correspondence, such as Name@gektiven-traumwohnung.de.
Money transfer abroad
Take special care when transferring money abroad! Before each transfer, check the account number (IBAN) of the payee: Which country code does it begin with? For example, ‘DE’ stands for an account in Germany, ‘AT’ for Austria and so on. If, on the other hand, there is a country code that you did not expect, you should not transfer any money.
What to do if you’ve been caught up in real estate scammers
- If you have already transferred money to a supposed landlord, ask your bank immediately to reverse the payment. However, you do not have a right to the bank booking back transfers. It is different when paying by direct debit: Here you can request a refund within eight weeks.
- Legally, it is fraudulent if you make payments based on a fake apartment advertisement. If you have fallen for a real estate fraudster, file a criminal complaint with the police. You can also do this online.
- You should also report the fraud to the real estate portal concerned in order to protect other apartment hunters from the same fraudsters.