International students are a popular prey for rack-renters and scammers. The Vietnamese student Huyen Vu (19) experienced that. With a shattered dream and a 1,000 euro less on her bank account, she tells how she became a victim of a student housing scam.

This summer, she thought she had scored her dream digs. Huyen, who already lives in Rotterdam, was looking for a place to move into with her friend from Vietnam. They found a promising advert on Facebook. She responded straight away and asked whether she could check out the room.

That’s when the trouble started. “The owner said he lived in the UK, and wanted us to transfer a 1,000 euro advance before he would travel to the Netherlands to show us the room. We could transfer the money to a friend of ours in London via Western Union. If we mailed the owner a transfer record, he would come over to show us the house and collect the money afterwards.”

So you transferred the 1,000 euro?

“We were sceptical at first. Because initially he wanted us to transfer the money to him directly. When he proposed making it out to a friend instead, we agreed to do so. After all, finding a good place in Rotterdam can be quite complicated.”

Did your gamble pay off?

“No. After we transferred the money, the gentleman never came over from the UK. And when we checked the house, it turned out it doesn’t even exist, and someone had collected our 1,000 euro from a Western Union office in China. Apparently you don’t have to show proof of identity to collect the money. We weren’t aware of this.”

Did you ask anyone’s help?

“I went to the police. Except they won’t be doing anything about this scam, since the case isn’t serious enough for an international arrest warrant. The police say they will be going after the girl who posted the advert on Facebook. Because this girl lives in Tilburg – even though she isn’t the same person as the scammer. Although to date – two months after I filed my report – I haven’t heard how that turned out.”

Have you found another room yet?

“Fortunately, after this incident, I was able to find a room in Kralingen. I was the first person to respond to the advert posted by that house. The landlord told me 50 responses came in within three hours of positing it.”

“It’s different for my friend. She’s still in Vietnam and hasn’t found a room yet – even though her lectures already started in September. It’s difficult to find something if you’re not already in Rotterdam. It’s a lot easier for a landlord or students looking for a new housemate to invite people who can come in person to check it out.”

Do you have any tips for other people, to avoid the same thing happening to them?

“When we checked the combination of the house number and the post code, it turned out they didn’t match up. In addition, it proved difficult to establish the identity of the person we were talking with. So there were already signs that something was off. I would recommend checking these things. And always try to physically check out a room before paying money upfront – even though this can be complicated for international students. And finally: never, ever, use Western Union for a transaction.”

EM is looking into the student housing market in September. We will publish several stories about the room shortage and the living situation of (international) students. Do you have tips, questions or comments? Mail them to erasmusmagazine@em.eur.nl.