Fake Apartments: recognising fake advertisements online
Discovering a chic flat in a sought-after area at a low and affordable price can be a stroke of luck. In many cases, however, it is an attempted scam. Be careful, because scammers use fake flat ads to get your data and money.
Affordable and freshly renovated flats in a prime location, only serve as a lure for desperate tenants. Especially in big cities where there is a shortage of living space. The scammers want to get their hands on your money, email addresses or passwords with their fraudulent real estate ads.
Topics in our legal advice
The problem with fake flats is widespread. But if you pay close attention, you can often expose the fraudsters in time and protect yourself from this scam.
Here you can learn from our lawyers how to distinguish fake ads from legitimate ones.
Fraud with fake apartments
Wherever real estate is advertised, unfortunately, fake flat advertisements can also be found.
Affected are reputable, well-known and widely used portals such as:
but also the classifieds portal eBay.
The methods of the fraudsters
The perpetrators usually hide their fraudulent intentions under an appearance of respectability. The most typical fraud methods with flats and real estate are the following.
Prepayment fraud with an advance deposit
In some cases, you may receive a direct rental offer for a property without ever having seen it. It is only when you have formally signed a rental agreement that a deposit is usually required. If the supposed owner asks for a deposit in advance, you’d better keep your hands off the property.
A typical scenario is that the alleged owner contacts the potential tenants to tell them that he is out of town and cannot attend the viewing of the flat.
He supposedly wants to send the keys to the flat by post – but only if you pay the deposit in advance. As soon as you have made the payment, the supposed landlord has disappeared and you are left without a flat.
Housing deposit scam
In this scam, the scammer rents out someone else’s flat and passes it off as his own. He creates a website layout, places an ad and takes photos while waiting for tenants to fall into his trap. Those who respond quickly are given a viewing appointment.
Now the transfer of the deposit is demanded. But as soon as the money is transferred, the alleged landlord disappears. In large German cities such as Munich, deposit fraud was quite widespread for a while.
Fake Apartments: Viewing appointment charged?
Prospective tenants look forward to every viewing of a property, especially in areas with a severe housing shortage. Some real estate scammers offering fake flats take advantage of this situation and charge money just to be put on the viewing list for a bogus property.
Cash on delivery fee
It is not a good idea to transfer money before you have viewed the flat. Even if the owner sends you the key first. If the key is sent COD, you will at least have to pay the COD charges.
In addition, there is no guarantee that the key will even fit the door lock – provided the advertised flat even exists.
Landlord demands copy of ID?
Some scammers ask for a copy of your identity card to be sent to them as an attachment by e-mail. You should not do this, because ID cards can be used by fraudsters to steal your identity and make illegal purchases. Accounts can also be opened in your name and misused for money laundering, for example.
Fake flats: Payment for listing space?
Here, the scammers pose as real estate agents and demand money from potential tenants in exchange for lists with attractive flat offers. The clever thing about this is that the scammers often steal the property listings of reputable estate agents for the listings. These real estate agents are not aware of the abuse.
E-mails with phishing links
Increasingly, fraudsters are also sending phishing emails under the guise of real estate portals to obtain the personal data of portal users. Usually, the emails ask you to click on a link or an attachment to log in to the real estate portal with your login data.
However, if you log in via the link, you will be redirected to a fake login page where the fraudsters can steal your login details. Malware can also be found in attached files.
10 indicators to recognise fake apartments
On real estate portals, it can often be difficult to distinguish between real and fake flat offers. After all, it is a professional environment. But there are signs you should be wary of.
Extremely low rental price
Unusually low purchase and rental prices are a sign of fake property advertisements. The local rent index of cities, which provides information on the affordability of rents, is available online. You can use these benchmarks to estimate the rent, especially if you are not familiar with the area.
Glamour and luxury in a small space
Unusual furnishings indicate fake flats. For example, the flat is barely 50 square metres but has ten different floor coverings, a doorman, an alarm system and full air conditioning. This is an indication that the scammers have simply copied together sections of text from various advertisements.
Pictures – like from a furniture brochure
You should be careful if the photos of the flat appear to be from a hotel or a furniture store and have nothing to do with the neighbourhood in which it is located.
Another sign of a fake flat ad is pixelated photos or the presence of several flats with the same photos. Sometimes the pictures are just from the planning stage of the flat or building project.
To avoid Fake Apartments check the advertisements and look at them more closely. It may be that the same picture appears in other advertisements of the provider. In this case, you should be careful, because even high-quality pictures of houses or flats can be bought online without any problems today.
Landlord speaks only English or is based abroad
Fake flats: Sentences in poor German or an accumulation of grammatical and typographical errors can be signs of scam properties. Since they often operate from abroad, fraudsters often use translation software.
Although these have improved steadily in recent years, bad language and spelling can still put off alert readers. Enquiries in English are another indication that the property ad is fake.
Many scammers work from other countries. Therefore, a fake advertisement can be indicated by a miserable German advertisement. Also, if the provider can only be reached in English or money transfers to foreign accounts are requested, be careful.
Be especially careful when sending money abroad! Before each transfer, check the recipient’s account number (IBAN): What country code does it begin with? For example, “DE” stands for a German account and “AT” for Austria.
Conversely, you should not transfer money if a country code appears that you did not expect.
Compare the location with the condition of the property
If the address of the property is given, you can check it with Google Maps or Earth. It is unlikely that you will find a large house with a gigantic garden plot, parking space and garage in the middle of a pedestrian zone.
Limited possibilities for contact – fake apartments?
If you advertise a flat or house commercially on the usual real estate websites, you usually have to provide contact information. This is not the case with private offers or websites like wg-gesucht.de or a classified ad portal.
Find out how long someone has been a member of the website and read reviews, if available. If the profile has only been active for a short time and there are few or no reviews, you should leave it alone.
It may be a fake housing ad if the person selling the property lives abroad and has no local representation.
By the way: Before entering personal information or sensitive data about yourself, you should also quickly check “official” companies and providers. Some scammers are skilled enough to create a profile that appears authentic.
Suspicious messages and mails
Never open file attachments in e-mails with the extension “.exe”, regardless of whether they come from alleged sellers of flats or houses or the real estate portal itself.
They could be Trojans or malware that are the work of real estate fraudsters. Also pay attention to the sender’s e-mail address. Fraudsters in the real estate industry often contact people via email accounts with obvious domains.
Fake apartments: report false advertisements
If several of the above criteria apply, you have already established that the ad is false. Anyone who is confronted with an advance payment of any kind should become sceptical. In this situation, tenants should immediately break off all communication with the dubious provider.
Furthermore, one should not send or disclose any personal data, information about one’s identity or money. If the ad was published on a real estate platform, this portal should also be informed about the ad.
Keep this in mind: What applies to other online scams also applies to fake flats. Check the details and be careful if the information seems incomplete. Only send money if you are sure that it will arrive and that you can get it back if the worst happens.
Legal help for fraud victims of fake apartments
Victims should seek advice from a fraud lawyer. A lawyer can file a complaint for fraud with the police on your behalf, take over the communication with your house bank and initiate civil and criminal proceedings to take action against the fraudsters and, if necessary, recover your funds.
If you have invested in or made payments to one of the companies on this list, our lawyers will be at your disposal at short notice.