How to avoid accommodation fraud

To visit a new country as an international student can be an exciting experience. But to find accommodation in Gothenburg is often hard. Unfortunately scammers may take advantage of the often stressful situation at the beginning of each semester. 

Boplats have spoken to Nina Tell, Crime Prevention Officer at the Swedish Police Service, on how to avoid scams when responding to ads. 

- Fraud as a type of crime has increased during the last years and the deceivers continue finding new ways of getting access to quick money. The accommodation frauds increase at the beginning of each semester and the trend is consistent from year to year.

Maria is an international student who recently arrived in Gothenburg for the start of the autumn semester. As many students she has been busy searching for accommodation through the internet and after many attempts at finding a place to stay she is starting to feel a bit stressed about the situation. Recently she found an offer that just seemed too good to be true.

- At a first glance the offer seemed really perfect for me! A good location and a reasonable price. I contacted the landlord and he responded quickly, sending me a lot of information which made him look really serious. But then I started to get suspicious. The offer looked extremely good, almost too good. The advertiser also sent precise instructions for the booking process and asked for a deposit in advance, says Maria. 

Despite what one might think, scammers often appear to be very nice and trustworthy. A clear warning sign is when a landlord wants you to hurry paying a deposit, trying to make you think that if you do not act fast the room will be gone. Boplats would recommend students not to pay anything until you have seen the room, gotten the keys and made sure that the key actually works.

- Make a habit of always double-checking as much information as possible. Google the company names, personal data, phone numbers of the person claiming to have a room or apartment. Do not stress and be extra careful if you are encouraged to act fast. Have faith that your situation will work out well in the end. Be careful about your personal data and money, says Nina Tell.

Maria did the right thing and googled the information to make sure nothing suspicious turned up.

- I searched his name on the internet, and it seemed to be associated correctly to the address of the advertised room. Then I contacted the housing coordinators at Boplats just to get a second opinion. This turned out to be the right thing to do! They helped me look into the matter further, and fortunately that is how the scam was discovered, says Maria. 

The offer turned out to be a case of stolen identity. That is, the scammers pretend to be the person registered at the address. Contacting Boplats to have a second look at the offers before paying anything is always a good idea. 

- We must help each other to discover these scams. They are sometimes quite sophisticated and the more people looking into the matter the better. We really encourage students to contact us if they feel unsure about an offer. Even if we can’t guarantee anything since we do not know the landlords individually, the possibility that we will discover frauds increases, says Moa Frödin Gruneau, housing coordinator at Boplats.

If you as an international student have become a victim of fraud you should report this to the police. Nina Tell recommends you to always save the documentation concerning the fraud.

- If you have become a victim of fraud you should contact the police. It is a good thing to save emails, bank statements and other documents that can be used in an investigation. Unfortunately, it is rare that the money that you have lost can be regained, says Nina Tell. 

 (Maria is not the students’ real name.)


Police Tips to avoid being scammed 

  1. Form a picture of the situation, not the person. 
  2. Check with the property owner that the person is the occupier of the flat. 
  3. Require identification of the landlord and a tenancy agreement. 
  4. Never pay deposit or rent in advance before you have visited the accommodation and a contract is signed. 
  5. Be wary if the landlord is abroad or can not meet you.
  6. Do not pay money via anonymous payment services. 
  7. Bring a friend or family member when you visit the accommodation. Four eyes can easier see through a fraud. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it is usually so. 
  8. If you have been the victim of a fraud, it is important that you report this to the police.