Beware of fake property adverts on the internet

Anyone looking for a flat in Germany or for their next stay abroad in Europe inevitably turns to property portals. Criminals are taking advantage of the popularity of these sites and the widespread housing shortage to make money from fake ads.

We explain the scams and how you can protect yourself.

On online platforms such as Immoscout, Immonet or Immowelt, as well as on similar portals in other EU countries, it only takes a few clicks to find current offers with photos, property descriptions, costs and more.

However, these are not always legitimate advertisements. Sometimes fraudsters ask for payment in advance or try to intercept your data with fake emails.

According to the experience of the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Germany, the perpetrators also operate on foreign portals and deliberately exploit consumers' lack of knowledge of country-specific procedures.

Scepticism is particularly called for when an offer seems too good to be true.

Typical rental scams

Fake estate agents

The supposed estate agents first rent a holiday home for themselves.

They take photos of the property, write a description and post the details on an online property exchange.

Interested parties find the property in the search and then meet with the supposed agent.

After viewing the property, they receive an email saying that they can have the property. However, they will be asked to send a deposit by money transfer (e.g. Western Union or MoneyGram).

If you agree, the money is lost.

False landlords

Supposed landlords state in an e-mail that they are abroad and therefore cannot appear in person for the viewing.

They ask the prospective tenant to transfer a deposit as an advance payment. In return, the keys to the flat would be sent by post.

If they do not like the flat, they can return the key and get the deposit back.

An alleged escrow service of a company like Western Union or MoneyGram is supposed to be used for the money transfer. Even though these companies do not offer the deposit of the money at all, the familiar names inspire confidence.

As a rule, the scammers send scans of other people's IDs to lull their victims into a sense of security. 

Fraud with phishing e-mails

The portal customer receives an email purporting to be from the property platform on which he is registered.

The email looks as if it has been sent by the platform operators. In reality, it is a fraud attempt.

Under false pretences, the addressee is asked to register on the portal by clicking on a link. Often, the link contains the name of the supposed platform and thus inspires confidence.

In reality, however, the recipient is directed to a fake property site that looks deceptively genuine. When the customer enters his or her access details, these are intercepted by the fraudsters, who use the customer data to commit further fraud.

Tips for finding accommodation on the internet

Finding a place to live abroad can be confusing if you are not familiar with the local conditions.

But don't let national differences put you off. Take your time and follow our tips:

  • Be suspicious of unreasonably low rents, especially in prime locations.
  • Be wary if the landlord claims to be unable to attend a viewing in person, or if there is no estate agent or property manager on site.
  • Never pay in advance, either for the deposit or for the keys. Do not pay until you have seen the property and signed the contract.
  • Try to check the reliability of the agent

    - In Germany, the broker's licence (Maklerschein) according to § 34 c Gewerbeordnung can be an indication of seriousness.

    - A complete and easy to find imprint on the website is also a sign of trustworthiness.

    - If the real estate agent offers several flats rather than just one, this is another indication of seriousness.
  • Be sceptical if you are contacted on German portals in bad German. An email in English could also be a sign of fraud.
  • Do not send scanned or copied identity documents to the landlord or agent in advance. Keyword: identity theft.
  • Scammers steal copy from other ads. Copy and Google parts of the ad text. If you find it elsewhere, be sceptical.
  • Use Google's reverse image search to see if images are being used elsewhere (e.g. on a furniture store's website). If they are, the chances of fraud are high. In particular, compare the photos with the text. Are there any discrepancies?
  • If you are transferring money abroad: Check the IBAN and the country code (e.g. AT for Austria, FR for France, etc.). Does it match your country of residence?
  • Do not use international money transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Wire transfers should also be avoided. You will not get your money back in the event of fraud. It is better to use a credit card or direct debit.
  • Do not open attachments ending in .exe in emails. These can contain viruses and Trojan horses.

If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of a housing ad, we will be happy to help you free of charge. Please use our online contact form. 

What to do in case of fraud

  • Report dubious housing offers to the portal operator.
  • If you are a victim of fraud, contact the police immediately.
  • If you paid by credit card or direct debit: Contact your bank and try to initiate a chargeback procedure. Attention! Deadlines must be respected!

Report an internet trap

Have you fallen for a fake shop or subscription trap? Have you received a dubious message or fallen victim to fraud in any other way?

Then report it to Watchlist Internet. Experts from the independent Internet platform will check your report and warn other users about Internet traps.

To the Watchlist Internet report form.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.