Rent scams

Moving day today! In honour of moving into my fourth and (hopefully) final room in Paris, here’s a post on rent scams:

When I was looking for accommodation in London at the end of 2007, I tried to organise a room before I left. A room off Piccadilly Circus was advertised at £46 a week – never having been to London before, I didn’t realise that this was too good to be true.

The person I was emailing had me fill out a tenancy application form and asked me to send the deposit and first month’s rent to her via Western Union. Having only lived at home, I didn’t realise that I needed to pay both the rent and a deposit and only paid the rent. She got quite aggressive when I hadn’t paid the rest and asked me to send the second payment to Nigeria. Now the alarm bells started flashing – I went back through the emails and something about the tone seemed a bit fishy, she had two different surnames and an Australian email address, none of the rental documentation she had sent through was actually official, and she refused to wait until I arrived in London to accept the second payment, claiming that she would be charged a £5000 fine if she didn’t have the deposit. I called the British Consulate in Australia and the Camden Council in London (I was a little worried that I’d be causing her grief if she was legit), who said they hadn’t heard about any fines like this. I told her this and made up a story about not coming to London after all, but she refused to refund the money I’d already paid and said her god would curse my family (all in uppercase. I don’t know if I’m being sensitive, but uppercase emails rub me the wrong way).

When I got to London, the street where the property was supposedly located wasn’t even residential.

Now I was quite lucky. True, I lost a little money, but I could have lost much more. And at least I figured it out before I left and had a bed at a hostel waiting when I arrived – I can’t imagine what it must be like for the people who show up at what they think is their new address with their suitcases in tow, only to discover that it isn’t there.

When I was looking for somewhere to live in Paris, I came across a number of ads like this, mostly in the Craigslist classifieds (that being said, there are also a number of good ads on Craigslist, so I’d still recommend it).

Here’s what to look out for:

  • Someone asking you to fill out a rental application based on photos they’ve sent you
  • Someone asking you to pay money before showing you the room
  • Someone saying they can’t show you the room because they’re away (ask whether they’ll be back before your moving date. Generally you don’t pay until the day you move in)
  • Lots of detail – many of the ads have realistic prices, but watch out for the replies they send to your inquiries. I generally have a sentence or two about my age, where I’m from, how long I need a room for and the work I’m doing, and ask when I can have a look at the room. The responses in these scams often contain several paragraphs of a life story that may include a sick relative, some sentences begging you to take good care of their home or only being interested in serious people, and a mention of sending you a rental application if you’re interested (which you should not be filling out until you have seen the room in person)
  • If in Paris, anyone advertising or emailing you about 22 Braque – I had three separate people use this address

The main thing to remember is not to pay any money by any means until you have physically seen the room – yes, some people may have unusual circumstances, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Attached are some of the emails I’ve received (including the original London ones) in case you want to get a feel for them.

Jessica Waller – Original London Scam

George Phillips – Paris

Various initial emails

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