STUDIUM & FREIZEIT
Living abroad? I had doubts from the beginning. A flat all to myself, furnished, central location and only for 450 Euros? Sounded too good to be true. For my internship at the Goethe Institute in Dublin I needed a place to stay for two and a half months.
Ireland’s capital is known to be one of the most expensive cities in the world. Not only students, also professionals mostly live in shared accommodations – simply because it’s too high priced. Based on these facts, the offer I’d found on craigslist seemed more than shady. I’d made good experiences with craigslist before – which is why I contacted the tenderer anyway.
Nina, a postdoc from the Ruhr-University in Bochum, also used craigslist to find a place for a six weeks’ science project in Boston. “I wrote around 200 emails to craigslist ads in Boston”, she confirms. Acquaintances had recommended the page to her. But craigslist turned outexposed not to be save. “From ten responses I received, nine were scammers”, the student says, “many had pictures, which didn’t match the listed addresses or buildings. Names of real brokers were used, but with dubious email addresses”. Some frauds had even told her outlandish stories why they were be unable to show the flat. Nina adds: “Or they tell you half of their life story only to build up trust”.
Here comes suspicion
In my case, the tenderer, replied a few hours later. At first sight, it seemed to be a ‘normal’ response, besides the fact, that he did not live in Dublin. “I am currently residing in Scotland, U.K., due to my job transfer”, it said in the mail. In the following he asked me a lot of questions, about my age, my present occupation and how much rent I could pay in advance. He attached a lot of shiny pictures of the flat. Even though I remained
suspicious, I continued the process.
For Mira, currently studying art history at the Ruhr-University, the situation was similarly obscure. Three and a half years ago, she did a three months’ internship at the German forum for art history in Paris. A city which is rated as even more expensive than Dublin. Beforehand, she applied to a room within a flat with several rooms. “The flat was cut like a flat for one person or a couple and didn’t look suitable for sharing“, the 25-year old says and adds “still, someone offered me the living room”. After a while living there, Mira had to share the room with other people, the couch was replaced by bunk beds. “At some point eight people lived in the living room, additionally to two others who had their own bedrooms on the upper floor“, she recounts. Ten people shared one bathroom and one kitchen. After two months, Mira moved into another shared flat.
In the next mail to me, my craigslist contact introduced himself as James Pickard, a 30-year old British / Irish citizen, “a mature individual, happily married with one daughter”. He told me he would be sending the keys to me after we had finalised the lease agreement and the finances. He asked for a copy of my ID – which I was unwilling to send to him, since a former fellow student, who got scammed in Dublin, urged me never to send a copy of my ID. But the conversation still went on. After giving him all my personal information, such as full name, address, date of birth, he sent me an allegedly copy of his passport and the lease agreement. All seemed to be fine. The only weird thing was, that his lawyer was based in the USA.
Something similar happened to Selina in 2015. The now 26-year old student from the University of Duisburg-Essen, studied bioprocess engineering back then at the college of Osnabrück. For an internship in Mondsee, in Austria, she looked for a place in Salzburg. “I thought I had found a great deal on Airbnb and the host contacted me via mail”, she recalls, “back then, I didn’t know that one normally only communicates over the app itself”, Selina adds. Meanwhile, Airbnb urges users never to interact outside of the app to guarantee safety. In the same way, that James demanded the money from me, the Airbnb host asked Selina to transfer money to his bank account in Great Britain – 1,500 Euro in total. Only after this procedure, Selina would told to receiveget the keys to the flat. “Eventually, I transferred the money and never heard from the person ever again”, the student says. Especially upsetting: the German police could not pursue the theft. “They couldn’t do anything, because the bank account was in GB and not in Germany”, Selina explains.
Helpful Tips No. 2
- Even though Airbnb can be an alternative and is mostly save nowadays: Be aware that, in most cities, staying at an Airbnb accommodation on long site is much more expensive than a shared accommodation
- Be aware that scammers often use real names and real agency names to build up trust: Often, these people or agencies do not know that their names are being misused
- Stick to official rental pages, avoid pages such as craigslist or offers via facebook or similar social media canals
- When you’ve been scammed: Go to the police, press charges, share your experience online on websites such as wohnungsbetrug.blogspot.com
Once I had proofread the lease agreement that was sent to me, I filled it out, signed it, and sent it back to James. But I was still lucky in the end. After James had told me to transfer the money via Money Gram – a procedure where you can transfer cash money immediately without going through your online banking account – I refused. Instead, I asked for his bank account data. His bank account was rather his lawyers’ in the US, which made me even more wary. Nevertheless, I intended to transfer the money. But my gut feeling didn’t let me down. I googled the names again and came onto a website which listed rental scammers. I was shocked to see that one user had posted an email he received – from James Pickard with the exact wording that I had received. ‘James’ had merely used another email address and the flat concerned wasn’t in Dublin, but in Amsterdam.
When I went to the police to file a charge of data theft and attempted fraud, the officer told me the same, that was told to Selina. That it was almost impossible to find his person, if when their bank account was not in Germany, not even in the EU. “But when someone asks for money transfer via Money Gram or Western Union, one should always get suspicious”, he said. Eventually, I only lost time, no money – yet, I was angry. Mostly of myself for not recognizing the signs sooner. Now, when I will think back on this internship one day, I will always also be reminded of the time when I had almost lost 950 Euros.