Today’s blog post about avoiding scams can be summarised and condensed into a two simple pieces of advice:
- If it looks too good to be true, it is.
- Never, ever pay for anything before you’ve visited the location, read the contract in detail and then sign it.
Moving to a new city in a new country can be stressful and overwhelming. Everything is new and you may not yet know how to navigate confidently. When you move, there are people out there who will try to take advantage of your situation and make a profit.
Particularly when you start searching for a new home while you still are in your old home or abroad, you are bound to run into scammers because they will try and target you from the get go. We hope that this blog post will help you avoid the scams we know of.
If you think you can add to this list, please get in touch so we can publish it!
A general guide to rental scams:
Signs of a scam:
- Watch out for the ads saying stuff like : “My *insert relative* is leaving for *insert random city* so we have this GIGANTIC apartment that we want to rent for CHEAP but you have to pay everything in advance”
- Beautiful property at a cheap price, not from an official real estate agency
- Lengthy emails from the landlord explaining why they won’t have so much time and want to rent it quickly and so on. Real real-estate agents generally write short emails if at all (they prefer calling).
- Scammers ask for a deposit before signing a contract. They ask you to pay a deposit to see an apartment (or “reserve your spot” or “send a financial guarantee that you really are interested”).
Good questions to ask yourself:
Is this listing fake?
Especially on public platforms like PAP, Le Bon Coin and Facebook you’re likely to come across fake listings. There are some telltale signs how to spot them: The picture will be of a beautiful, bright and large apartment or room, usually at a cheap price (so cheap you’ll feel super lucky to have found it!) rented by a private person. Not all of them are offered under market value, sometimes they are priced at a “normal” rate, so be vigilant.
Is the Landlord legit?
Let’s say you get in touch with the owner of the listing. Often the “owner” will explain to you why the rent is low: they might live in/move to another country, or someone died and they need to rent the property fast, or they don’t want the apartment to be empty and are looking for “a kind soul” to take care of it.
Am I on a fake viewing?
If someone is doing a scam on AirBnB, they will push you to come visit immediately so you can view the apartment while they are still in-situ. Alternatively they avoid a viewing visit altogether. They have “reasons” why you cannot visit the apartment before sending a deposit or first rental payment. Or, also popular, they ask you for a financial guarantee before booking a viewing.
Should I send a dossier?
We have an entire chapter on the dossier. Keep in mind that you are sending official documents to potential landlords. If you are sending it digitally, watermark your documents (using services like dossierfacile.fr or doing it yourself on Photoshop). It’s not unusual to ask for a dossier upfront, but check that they are not requesting forbidden information like your bank statements or carte vitale.
Can my landlord ask for my Deposit / first Rent upfront?
If you are being scammed, they will ask for money upfront. Scammers might ask for cash or a money transfer (Orange Money, Western Union, Moneygram, Neosurf, Transcash, Toneo First, Ria) or some similar method. They might ask you for more money than usual, because you are not French. Scammers will try to get money before you see the location or before you sign a contract or get the house keys. Don’t do this. Don’t give money before you have seen the location, carefully read & signed the contract.
Also trust your gut feeling – if you feel something is not right, walk away. The moment you give the scammers your money, you have lost your money and will get nothing in return.
How to protect yourself:
- Never send money without having seen the property, read & signed a rental agreement and have the keys.
- Reverse-search the pictures on Google
- Check the average rent. Most landlords overcharge, however none undercharge, so you can check if the property you found is too good to be true.
Here are some popular scams to look out for:
It can happen that scammers rent an AirBnB and recycle the listing pictures for a real rental listing. They hold viewings and then sign contracts with everyone who came to see the apartment and collect the deposit and rent. When the renters are ready to move in, the apartment is not actually available.
You can protect yourself by doing a reverse-search on google with the picture of the apartment, you may find it already listed. You can also check the age of the ad online, and how hard the “owner” is pushing for you to come visit the apartment quickly. Extra points for you if you spot items in the apartment that probably don’t match the person showing you around.
I know someone who rented a chambre de bonne from a person who lived several floors down, owning multiple apartments in the building. This person’s landlord had swapped their own electricity bill with the tenant in the chambre de bonne. The tenant was foreign so unsure of the actual cost of electricity until noticing that something was off – paying €80+ each month for 10m2 seemed fishy, and upon calling EDF they confirmed that this is a popular scam.
You can protect yourself by taking out your own electricity contract, which is your right as a tenant. Most homes have a Linky device, so you can closely monitor your consumption and protect yourself from rogue landlords.
Every so often you receive a leaflet in your mailbox with convenient phone numbers, firefighters, police, locksmith, plumbers and emergency services. Often these numbers are serviced by rogue service people who will overcharge you and often not even fix the issue. These are expensive lessons that you can avoid.
You can also protect yourself when moving in, familiarise yourself with locally run businesses with reputable workers. Find out who most of your neighbours use or ask the local businesses who they have on call. You can check google reviews and even utilise the app Nextdoor. If you are prepared to call when something goes wrong, you won’t have to also worry about someone stealing your money.
Am I the only one being scammed?
No, here are some stories from real people and the scams they encountered (these are all scams!!!)
“My friend wants to rent an apartment and she really likes it. She has met the landlord and seen the apartment. They’re telling her that she needs to send €2000 (first month rent and agency fees) in order to apply for the apartment, but she hasn’t signed any contracts yet.”
“Something I saw multiple times when I looked for an apartment in Paris. You find a nice apartment (photos probably stolen from an Airbnb) with a low price. The “owner” will explain to you (without being asked) that the price is low because they live in another country/in the countryside and only want someone to live in the apartment to heat it and not let it deteriorate.
They will ask you to visit the apartment the next day or very quickly which doesn’t make sense if they live far away. When you tell them no, they will try to guilt trip you, a real landlord wouldn’t spend time doing that and would move to the next person who sent their dossier.”
“Sometimes scammers rent the Airbnb they stole the pictures from, that’s why they want you to visit the next day. They make you sign a “rental agreement” and make you pay for the first month and the deposit.”
“I received this email when I tried to book a viewing:
“To make the reservation which will assure us of the availability of the funds and which assures you in return that we will not touch your funds here is the procedure to follow:
You will pay the security deposit which is equivalent to the deposit of 735 € (rent excluding charges) and the first month’s rent including VAT, i.e. 790 € = 1525 € by RIA DEPOSIT, the receipt for which (RIA receipt) will be given on the day of the visit after the signing of the lease contract. This procedure reassures us of the availability of funds and allows us not to travel for nothing given the distance. Since we have already made trips for visits that ended in disappointment because either the interested parties were not present or their deposit was not yet ready and cheques bounced and I would not like to waste my time again I hope you understand.
The procedure is simple, the deposit will be made in the name of someone close to you (friend, family, acquaintance or your spouse) and not in my name. No one will be able to touch it except the beneficiary. This would be in the form of a guarantee for me and once this is done, you will send me a copy or photo of the RIA receipt to enable me to check the availability of the funds online to confirm the visit to you and to travel. The extra cost of sending it will be returned to you on the day of the visit, I hope you understand.
The documents to be provided for the signature of the Lease Agreement are the following:
- Photocopy of both sides of the identity card:
- Receipt RIA 1525 € (OBLIGATORY).
Then, after visiting the flat and signing the lease, we will go together to the nearest RIA agency to withdraw the money. In case you don’t like my flat, which I doubt very much, you will simply cancel the deposit and your money will be back in your account.”
“I’m Spanish and I’m currently living in Annecy, but before coming here while looking for a flat I found a good one, started to talk with the owner by mail and then by Whatsapp. She asked me for money for a ‘refundable deposit” and sent me what I thought was her ID card and phone number.
When she learned I did not have a French guarantor, she doubled the deposit and I sent her €2000. I had even spoken with whom she claimed to be her real estate agent, they all were very rude. When I finally started to realise that I was probably being scammed, I decided to back out and ask for my money back.
The landlady asked me to pay a fine because all the “papers” were already done, and that I had to pay that fine to the actual agency (which by the way I never found online) before her financial agent returned my money (because she said she didn’t actually have it).
I tried to speak with her many times, explaining that she could rest those 250€ from the actual 2000€ and return me 1750€ but she insisted that “in France things work in another way”. And there was no way she would want to pay herself for the theoretical fine and give me the rest.
Even a friend of mine who is a lawyer, sent her an email in three languages and she ignored it. Now she has blocked me on WhatsApp, and has told me to pay and not bother her.”
“I searched on Facebook, there’s plenty of reasonably priced apartments to rent, (450-500€ in the 5th arrondissement in Paris . They want me to use Neosurf to send my deposit in advance. Is this too good to be true?”
“I’m searching for rooms to rent in Paris and scouring through FB groups for a place. There’s one apartment that seems too good to be true and for pretty cheap so I definitely smell a rat here. However the landlord has sent me a contract which looks legit at face value as well as his identity card.
His only condition was that he transfers the deposit to an international bank account (?!) which he claims he set up because he had international students staying at the apartment.”
“I’m new to Paris and have been apartment hunting on top of preparing for grad school, switching over my phone, getting let go from my job. In the midst of all of this, I made a very poor judgement call involving a fake Airbnb rental scam and a wire transfer and now I’ve lost a few thousand euros.
I’m using Currencies Direct as my currency wire exchange and I called them fairly soon after payment to try to stop it from going through. They reportedly put out a stop payment request to the bank but when I checked the progress yesterday, the payment had gone through and been confirmed. I’m sure at this point the money is now just gone, but anyone have any suggestions as to how to get my money back?”
“I have sent out hundreds of messages on all of the typical websites, lodgis, leboncoin, PAP, and plenty of others. I have had three people try to scam me: one claimed to live in the US and asked me to bank transfer him €1700 and then he would send me the keys, another person who lived in Germany and needed a €500 guarantee to visit the apartment etcetera.”
“So I was looking for a room for a couple of months and this guy that I’ve contacted from leboncoin said it is available for visit and asks for papers and money upfront on the visit. The thing is, that it kinda sounds too good to be true. He is asking for 300€ “charges inclus” 15th district. Really good looking apartment. I’ll paste here some of the stuff he was asking. Thing that scared me is. :
- ”Récépissé du (coupon Trans-cash) des 600 € (un mois de loyer & un mois de caution)”
Also asking me for the following:
- Photocopie recto verso de la carte d’identité ou du permis de Conduire.
- Quittance de votre dernier loyer (facultatif)
- Photocopie de la dernière fiche de paie ou un Justificatif de paiement (facultatif)
It turned out to be a scam, otherwise they would ask for a cheque and not cash, they would not ask for it upfront, and the other documents would not be optional. A standard dossier would contain identity proof, tax proof, guarantor certificate but no RIB or money or cheque or coupons.”
“My friend wants to rent an apartment and she really likes it. She has met the landlord and seen the apartment. They’re telling her that she needs to send €2000 (first month rent and agency fees) in order to apply for the apartment, but she hasn’t signed any contracts yet. It says “please note that you will not be billed until the landlord accepts your rental request.”