Bas Voerman, a 36-year-old man from Groningen, says that at least ten people have come to his flat in the city looking to rent it after seeing a fraudulent listing online. He wants to warn other would-be victims to help keep them from getting scammed.
Translation by Traci White
Voerman, who lives on the Turftorenstraat in the city of Groningen, told Dagblad van het Noorden that he has informed the police about the incidents. A person claiming to be Simon Marcus Schuiten or David Cobben lists a 64 square meter flat on the Turftorenstraat, and demands that would-be tenants pay 900 euros in rent and a 1,500-euro deposit before handing over the keys. But the unit in question is not for rent: Bas Voerman lives there with his girlfriend, and they are not planning to move out anytime soon.
Yet nearly a dozen people have come to the flat since June looking to either move in or seeking to check it out before handing over the money. Voerman says that all of the victims so far have been university students, including several from China and Germany. Voerman told the paper that the scammer uses his girlfriend’s name and initials, S.M. Schuiten, and includes photographs of two similar flats. “The scammer sends people to a site that looks like Airbnb, but it’s fake. The only link that works is the ad for our flat.”
Several victims have shared their emails from the scammer with Voerman, who has also done his own detective work to figure out who is behind the scam. He says that David Cobben sold the flat to Voerman’s girlfriend in 2009, and currently works in Manchester, England. The other name the scammer uses – Simon Marcus Schuiten – has the same initials as Voerman’s girlfriend, and those initials are posted at the doorbell at the main entrance.
The scammer uses two email addresses – email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org- and claims to be from Götenburg in Sweden, and sends would-be tenants his passport. The passport is very likely stolen from another victim, which is a common catfishing tactic used in rental property fraud.
Visit in person
The police advise people looking for rental properties in the city to visit them in person before transferring any money, but that advice is difficult for international students in particular to follow if they are trying to secure a place to live before moving here. The police have told Voerman that the scam involving his apartment is likely part of an ongoing investigation that started in 2017 and is playing out across Europe.
According to police spokesperson Anthony Hogeveen, there is no exact overview of the number of scams happening in the city. The police cite the fact that some victims are too ashamed to file a report as part of the reason, but the fact that the scams at each address operate slightly differently means that the police often have a hard time putting them all together into a single bigger picture.
Housing scams occur annually in Groningen, particularly during the summer months when new students are moving to the city to start university in the autumn. In July, a new employee at UMCG was scammed out of 700 euros for a rental property on the Boterdiep. Another scam targeting foreigners in particular has been occurring since at least March, which involves a phone call from a number appearing to be a Dutch government agency claiming that the person’s legal documentation is incomplete and demanding they pay a fine.
Photo source: Google Maps