A newly arrived Groningen resident had reported being scammed out of 700 euros for an apartment in the city.
According to Karen Prowse from the International Welcome Center North, when the man provided the contract to the municipality in order to process his residence permit, there were “no red flags”: the property on the Boterdiep was zoned as residential. Prowse says that he is a non-EU citizen and IWCN was assisting him with his legal documentation in order to work in the Netherlands.
The man, who was moving to Groningen to work at UMCG, realised he had been the victim of a fraud when no one showed up at the meeting he had scheduled with the landlord. Prowse says it is unclear how the man initially found the listing for the property, but he was in contact with a person who claimed to be the landlord via WhatsApp. The victim paid 700 euros in advance for the accommodations and made an appointment to meet in person, but when he arrived, no one showed. Subsequent attempts to reach the contact person failed.
The Northern Times has contacted the Northern Netherlands police force to see if there have been any similar reports filed recently. A representative from the media desk stated that it would be difficult to search through other reports due to inconsistencies in how crime reports are filed and what information is reported by the victims. We will post any updates from the police once we receive that information.
The summer months are a common period for housing fraud, many of which focus on foreigners (often students) looking for a place to live from abroad. Scammers typically request that would-be tenants pay a deposit for the room or house sight unseen before arriving in the Netherlands.
Groningen-based housing information site At Home in Groningen has a page dedicated to informing apartment hunters in the city for warning signs and how to avoid being ripped off on the housing market. Be careful when searching for a room and keep these tips in mind.
Types of Scams
In your journey to find a flat or room in Groningen, you might find different types of frauds, also called ‘scams’. In this section, we will focus on the most common cases so you can recognize a fraud and avoid it.
1. Email/online deposit
The most common type of scam is the ‘email/online deposit’ (in advance). In this case, the scammer pretends to be a landlord who is abroad. The most common excuse to explain why the landlord is in a foreign country is work.
In this case the scammer sends you an email with (fake) ID information (passport), pretending to prove his identity. You might think this is legitimate, but unfortunately, it is probably not. Professional scammers normally gather passports from other fraud victims.
You will start a conversation with the landlord that looks legitimate. They can ask you about where you work and why you need to rent, then they will send you some photos of the property.
Then the landlord will ask you for your passport to “prepare the contract”, that way even if you don’t proceed with the payment, they will have a copy of your passport to use in their next scam.
To recap, these are the warning signs of fraud:
2. Meet and greet deposit
Unlike the email/online deposit scam, in this type of scam you get to see the property.
After contact with the (fake) landlord and getting all the information you need (address, rent, deposit…), he will schedule a viewing.
During the viewing he will show the flat or room, so the tenant will be convinced that landlord wants to rent out the property. Once the tenant is happy and reaches an agreement (moving date, deposit and rent), the landlord will ask the tenant to pay a deposit (usually in cash) before moving. After the tenant pays the deposit in advance, the person who showed the apartment will be nowhere to be found and not contactable.
In this case, the tenant should be cautious. The viewing is important since tenant can verify that the property exists, however, it is not enough to guarantee that it is a legitimate deal. Therefore, a tenant should never pay before signing the contract and double checking that the landlord’s information stated in the contract is exactly the same as the one in the provided documents (ID card).
3. Sophisticated Meet and greet deposit
This is a variant of the scam described above. In this case, once the tenant has paid the deposit, the landlord gives the keys.
When the tenant turns up at the property, she discovers that the keys do not work and the landlord is no longer contactable. The tenant may also arrive at the same time as other “tenants”, who were equally scammed.
In both Meet and greet variations, the key elements to detect that is a scam are: