A great rental at a bargain price? An offer that is too good to be true? Foreigners should use caution when researching the German real estate market on the Internet because they can be easy prey for real estate scammers. This is especially true for people who are looking for apartments in Germany.
Real Estate Internet Fraud Warning in Germany
The scam follows a familiar pattern: The scammers pretend to be somewhere outside Germany, i.e. in Great Britain or the US. They plan to rent out a vacation home, rental apartment or home. Sometimes the scammers tell a story where they have worked in Germany and wanted to keep their property due to a temporary, work-related assignment abroad.
They claim that the new tenant will be sent the keys, via DHL parcel service or an agency, after they make an advance payment for the first month’s rent and the security deposit. They typically ask for these cash flows by Western Union money transfer. They also claim that if the renter is not satisfied with the home/rental for any reason, the money will be fully refunded. Unfortunately, in most cases the victims will never get their money back because the rental property may not exist or the property belongs to another owner who is not aware that it is being used to perpetrate a fraud.
These scammers have the most success with foreigners who are not familiar with the German real estate market and to make matters worse, in some instances the people who have been scammed may see their names misused in online advertising run by the scammers.
- Be skeptical of unrealistically low rents and/or purchase prices. It is highly unusual for owners of houses/apartments to rent out a property without meeting the new tenants in person. If the renters are not interested in meeting you up front – view this as a possible ‘red flag’.
- Never transfer money in advance to people claiming to be owners and/or real estate agents for a property located in Germany. Reputable Internet portals provide secure payment options with money back protections. Always ask yourself “If this deal proves to be fraudulent, can I get this money back?”
- In case of doubts, send suspicious deals to the Internet portal operators for validation. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
- Be cautious when sending money orders or checks for payments. Both forms of payment are very uncommon in Germany and they are often used by scammers. A better option could be a wire transfer from your local bank account to a German domestic account (after you have gained comfort that the transaction is legitimate).
- The German Police will help people who have fallen victim to scammers. If this applies to you, print all information related to the fraudulent transaction and present it to the local German police.
- Further information in German: Real Estate Scamming in Germany