Shared-Flat Scams in Spain – Be on the Alert!

BeAwarebunnySo in helping you prepare for your move to Spain to study Spanish, we at UniSpain have shared with you a number of ways to search for a shared flat on your own on-line and also given you a check-list of useful things to consider when sifting through what you find.

But here, we think it is necessary to draw attention to some of the possible dangers that you could come across when independently conducting your search for shared-flat from afar using the internet. Yes, I am talking about Scams. Unfortunately, they do exist. But fortunately, if you are armed with the right tools to help you spot them and veer yourself elsewhere, you will have little cause for concern.

In certain cities in Spain, it is not unheard of for the renter to ask for a deposit to reserve the room in the flat – especially when the reservation will be done months in advance. It is a way to protect their interests as if you decide not to come at the final moment,they may have already turned down other interested parties and will lose money. But the idea is that the deposit will serve as the incentive to make you keep to your reservation.

But alas, there are some dishonest characters who would pretend to have a room to rent only to ask for deposits for “reservations” and then disappear with the money into oblivion.
Do not fall victim to these apartment scammers!

Things to Look Out For
1. Do you think that you’ve seen the ad before?
If you keep seeing the same (flat) pictures everywhere but with different and inconsistent information then doubt it.
2. Is the flat too good to be true? A beautiful double room with your own television and bathroom in the centre of Barcelona for 120 euros with charges included – just simply cannot be real!
3. How does the person write?
Bad grammar and punctuation with badly structured sentences and even profanity could be a hint that he or she might be lacking in a basic education enough to push them to resort to this dishonest lifestyle.scam-researchs
. Is the person pushy and too insistent?
If the tone of the person is borderline aggressive and manipulative then something is fishy. A landlord could ask for a deposit to reserve the room but if you say no, she could easily move on to the next student and does not need to stay and force you to pay up.
5. Does the person blatantly ignore your questions or refuse to show you things that you ask for in pictures?
Be wary of false representation. Many landlords will cover up the flat’s weaknesses and shamelessly engage in false advertising – showing the microwave and smoothie-maker in the kitchen while not letting on that the actual oven is out of order or to the roach infestation under the sink. Doubt elaborate descriptions of how “perfect” the room is with an unnecessary back-story of how a late grandmother passed on the flat after having passed away in a forest fire to save a kitty from a tree.
6. Is the ad uniquely in English (without a word of Spanish)?
It is one thing to create a bilingual ad, but another if the ad is targeting only foreign students. Chances are that it is a scam as it is often easier to bamboozle a foreigner outside the country who is not familiar with the Spanish system. Or it could even be a legitimate room with a landlord who wants to charge higher than the local market price that average Spanish student is aware of. Or worse,  a room in terrible condition that no local Spanish student in their right mind would rent. Hopes are that since you can’t physically see for yourself, that you’ll rent it from afar until you arrive and it is too late to change your mind.

NB: The room may not be what it seems in pictures – no image can substitute for a true in-person visit.

Things to Do
1. Ask for pictures not already shown in the ad – with different angles.
If they cannot provide these pictures, most likely, the flat does not exist.
2. Ask for the exact address of the flat.
You could key it into Google Maps and use the satellite option to take a look around. If all you see is supermarkets or a stadium…then it might be a lie.
3. Key the name and email address of this person and see what comes up.
Ask for a phone number in case you need to have someone call unawares.
4. Create another email address and contact the person
See if she represents herself the same way or if there are inconsistencies.
5. Ask that you both sign a solid contract with your complete names, contact information, valid official identification that corresponds with their valid bank information.
A scammer would never be able to provide such information as she would not be able to disappear.

Things to Assure Safety
Be extremely cautious with sending any thing that you could regret later.
Only do so if after you have thoroughly and officially verified EVERYTHING and have combed through your safety check-list 1000 times.

1Never ever send money through Western Union or other untraceable cash transfer services.
2. Do not be quick to send money or sensitive bank information.
3. Do not be quick to send sensitive personal information (passport ID page etc).
4. Do not give out your telephone number -if you can, get a prepaid sim card or Skype number that you dedicate only to your room search and could dispose of later.
5. If possible, have someone – a representative from your school, your internship, a friend etc go and visit the flat and/or call to verify that the ad is real and all is well.

NB: Even if the room is not a scam, some landlords do not return deposits if you change your mind or arrive and find that you no longer want the room. Be a 10000% sure in every which way before you consider sending money to anyone.

Closing Advice
Be Aware-thumb-125x197-34741It is possible to successfully rent a room from afar with no possible problems but you must be smart about it.
Please listen to your gut and any feelings of doubt that you may have.
It is better to find yourself arriving in Spain with no room than to pay a huge amount of money to some dishonest stranger.

Ideally, if you can, try and come a few days before your Spanish course begins and look at the apartment that you found on-line in person to make the final choice. You could stay with a friend or at a hostel or crash on a couch while you make your rounds.

The cost to do so will be significantly less than what it could cost you to get scammed out of a reservation deposit on-line.

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