Undercover with the student housing swindlers
A 1.200 euro deposit for a house that doesn’t exist. Swindlers cheat international…
Various Facebook groups for students looking for accommodation are full of fake ads. The scammers are active worldwide. A few dozen advertisements for houses in Rotterdam are offered in exactly the same terms in student cities all over the world, EM found out. They often focus specifically on foreign students. International students can’t just plan a viewing, they’re not familiar with the city and, unlike Dutch students, they cannot stay with their parents for a week longer, for example.
The scammers try to persuade people who respond to such a fake advertisement to transfer money in advance, for example the deposit and a first month’s rent. They pretend to be the owners, landlords or future roommates. Usually they want you to make those payments through payment systems such as Western Union or MoneyGram or to an account number abroad.
It is difficult to estimate how many people are the victim of scammers. EM warned several students who responded to the fake advertisements. Not all of them knew that they were communicating with scammers. EM also spoke to victims who lost between 1,000 and 1,500 euros.
The police have no idea of the extent of the problem, according to a spokesperson for the Rotterdam police. This form of fraud is not registered separately.
The Dutch Student Union (LSVb) and Erasmus Student Network (ESN) Rotterdam also have no figures available. But both organisations do know that it’s a familiar problem. ESN is ‘obviously’ worried about the scams, says President Sander van der Neut. “Foreign students are often not yet familiar with how the housing market works in the Netherlands and have to arrange all sorts of other things,” he says.
“Even one case is a case too many”, LSVb board member John van Harten adds. “It is painful that international students receive too little information and help to find a room via an easier route.” Both organisations are familiar with this form of scams, through LSVb’s and ESN’s Housing Hotline. “The reason that mainly international students are victims is that they often look for a room from abroad,” explains Van Harten. “They have no network and often no knowledge of the local situation and their rights. Scammers take advantage of that.”