1. The advertisement
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The more general the advertisement, the more likely it is that the person doesn’t know the local situation. Is the university close by? Are there shops in the neighbourhood? Is public transport easily accessible? Duh. That applies to every student city in the world. So don’t be fooled by this. In the Netherlands, an advertisement should at least contain the address, the surface area of the room and photos.
Google entire sentences from the advertisement to check whether someone is using the exact same advertisement elsewhere. Occasionally it will be a lazy estate agent, but it’s usually a scammer.
2. The landlord
Many scammers search for their victims via Facebook. The advantage is that it’s reasonably easy to discover who you’re dealing with. Is someone offering accommodation in Rotterdam but doesn’t have any Facebook friends in Rotterdam? That’s rather dubious.
Check the pages and groups in which someone is active. Most scammers operate globally. It’s highly unlikely that someone who genuinely wants to rent out a house in Rotterdam is also a member of student accommodation groups in, say, Toronto, Paris and Dublin.
Another tip: check the Facebook ID of the person with whom you’re communicating. You can find that in the URL. If the name stated in the URL doesn’t concur with the name on the profile, or there are just a series of figures, then you’re probably dealing with someone who is pretending to be someone else.
And there’s the photos too. To come across as reliable, scammers often use photos of a woman or of a woman with a child. You can always use reverse image search to check all the photos you find on a profile. It’s not foolproof, but occasionally you come across a photo that is of someone else.
3. The accommodation
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You can also use reverse image search to check the photos of the apartment. Do they appear in an advertisement for another address, or in another city? Avoid like the plague.
Google is your best friend if you want to check an address. Does it appear in old advertisements, or is it, for instance, also on hotel websites? Watch out, because that’s probably how the scammer obtained the address. You can use Google Maps and Google Street View to check whether an address exists. Streetview is sometimes so detailed that you can read the house numbers.
It’s also a good idea to compare the photos you’ve received of the apartment with what you can see via Streetview. Look at the windows, for instance: do the number and shape concur with what is on the photos? Maybe you can see trees from the window on the photo, but on Streetview the street appears to have hardly any greenery.
Also always ask who the building owner is. It’s quick and cheap to use the cadastre to request ownership details about a house. For just 2.40 euro you can be certain whether someone is the real owner.
4. The viewing
That an address exists doesn’t mean you’re not being scammed. Always ask for a viewing. One of the most frequently used scammer tactics is to keep delaying a viewing. For instance, they say they’re abroad or simply don’t respond, or they ask you to make an advance payment first. So, even if you’re actually unable to view the accommodation, make sure you ask for a viewing. If someone starts to delay a viewing, or they come up with excuses, then they’re sure to be a scammer.
Also be aware that an appointment for a viewing is no guarantee that you won’t be scammed. Some scammers make a viewing appointment but don’t show up. And there are even examples of scammers who hire a house for a week, arrange countless viewings, sign all these hire contracts, collect the deposit and first month’s rent and then disappear.
5. De betaling
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The best advice: never pay in advance. But, if you’re searching for accommodation from abroad, it’s sometimes impossible to avoid doing this. So we’d like to highlight a couple of ways here in which you should never pay.
If someone asks you to transfer money via a payment service such as Western Union or MoneyGram, never do this, and never even consider it. This is clearly someone who is trying to scam you. Your ‘landlord’ or ‘roommate’ may try to convince you that it’s a safe way of demonstrating that you can pay the rent, but it isn’t. As soon as you show someone the receipt, that person can access the money within ten minutes, even if the payment was sent to a good friend or family member.
Another method that scammers use a lot right now is a fake payment link. Your scammer may suggest transferring the payment via Airbnb, for instance, or a similar platform. He or she will send a link to a payment page that looks very much like an Airbnb payment page. But as soon as someone from outside such a platform asks you to pay via this platform, you can be almost certain that it’s a scammer. So don’t do it.
A Dutch landlord will also never ask you to pay via an account abroad. So check the IBAN you receive from your contact person. A Dutch account number starts with NL and comprises 18 characters. If your contact person says that their Dutch account is blocked, or that it is handier if you pay to another account, just ignore it.
Something else you can watch out for when paying: rental in the Netherlands is almost always arranged via a company or corporation. So, even private individuals who only own a couple of buildings would not ask you to make payments to their personal account.
6. The communication
The same also applies to communications with the person who wants to rent the accommodation to you. It’s highly unlikely that communications about renting accommodation would only be arranged via a personal email address.
Signal number one that you’re dealing with a scammer is the language use. If someone’s written English is very poor, full of mistakes and has hardly any punctuation, be careful. It could be that the scammer has poor command of the language, but it is more likely that the scammer is being consciously transparent. This is how they filter out people who are already a little sceptical, so that they don’t spend too much time on these.
Also be aware of the questions that the ‘landlord’ asks you. What does someone want to know about you? For instance, a real landlord will never ask whether you smoke, but will inform you that it is not permitted to smoke in an apartment.
7. The tactics
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Recognise the strategies that scammers use and the errors they make. To win your trust, they may say they need to use a lawyer, to help them draw up a contact, or sometimes they need to consult with them. Total nonsense, of course. Because in the Netherlands no lawyer is involved in renting accommodation.
Something else you’ll never come across with a real landlord is flexible conditions. In the Netherlands a room is empty or furnished. You can move in on a specific date. And that is not negotiable. Scammers sometimes compromise on these conditions. For instance, you can choose when you want to start renting, or you can choose how many rooms you want, or whether you want to hire for a short or long period. In reality it never works like this.
What many scammers also do is try to prove that they are trustworthy. For instance, they offer references or send proof of identity to you. If you receive a copy of the passport from someone, then you know for sure that it’s a scam. With a real landlord it’s the other way around. You are the person who has to prove that you are a good tenant, you must prove that you can pay for the accommodation, and you must ultimately present proof of identity.
And a final tip: never send a photo of your passport. If you send this to the wrong person, you run the risk that it will be used to scam others for years to come. It’s fairly standard practice that you’ll eventually have to hand over a copy of your passport. When you do this, make a copy, make your BSN number illegible and write on the copy why you’ve made the copy before handing it over.