This is really important information for anyone wishing to go on a Year Abroad. If you have followed my blog posts you will know that I did not get accommodation from Frankfurt University. Consequently, I started searching for private apartments to rent for the duration of my studies. I posted an advert on an accommodation search website and was contacted by a number of people. One of the contacts sent an offer that seemed great: close to the university, unbelievable good value for money and a nice, furnished apartment.
I got in contact with my ‘future roommate’ to ask for more details. Being a trusting (or most likely, naïve) person, I lapped up the descriptions sent by my ‘roommate’ and was ready to make a payment. I was all too excited to find a place to stay as I was due to move in soon. I paid the deposit and first month’s rent, sent my scanned passport, and attached a signed copy of my part of the lease in an email. My roommate sent a scanned passport in return so I would ‘know I am dealing with the right person’. All seemed well.
We carried on exchanging a few emails. I kept requesting my roommates’ part of the signed lease. Despite their insistence that it had been sent, I could not find it in my inbox or junk. I looked through our correspondence to try and find a telephone number and there was none. The emails became scarcer and I became more panicky. This morning – the day before I was due to leave – I decided to do a little research. I looked on some internet forums and came across a post from a victim of a scam. The victim had pasted the email correspondence … it was almost exactly the same emails as I had received, save for a few changes. It was clear that I had been scammed too.
I am hoping to channel my anger and frustration to do some good. So here are a few tips for those trusting/naïve types out there:
- Despite how desperate you are for accommodation do not be complacent. Do your research.
- Always ask for a telephone number – definitely landline and, if possible, a mobile.
- Get an exact postal address. (Which I did do. This isn’t enough on its own.)
- If possible have a Skype ‘interview’.
- Do not transfer any money without being absolutely sure what you’re getting yourself into. However, there is still no guarantee. So be vigilant!
- If you do intend to transfer money, insist on only paying a deposit and not the first month’s rent.
- If possible, transfer money via a PayPal account.
You may have noticed that I haven’t used a gender-specific pronoun in this blog. That is because, for all I know, my ‘roommate’ can be anyone. The scanned passport and photograph in the email attachment could belong to a past victim of this scammer in order to falsely validate the transaction.
I’m feeling pretty stupid right now but I know it will feel better soon. The only way is up after all!
(An update on my situation: I am going to Germany on Sunday, instead of tomorrow, and will try to look for accommodation in person.)