• Sweden's news in English

Foreign students easy prey for Stockholm rental scams

The Local · 3 Aug 2011, 09:56

Published: 03 Aug 2011 09:56 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

In the spring of 2010, Germany native Lars Lückoff thought he’d be spending the first half of 2011 in Sweden as an exchange student at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.

Instead, the third-year chemical engineering student is back studying at the university in Bath, England, with 7,000 kronor ($1,140) missing from his bank account.

“I’ve kind of tried to forget about it at this point,” Lückoff tells The Local, reflecting on the ordeal.

Like many other students, whether from Sweden or abroad, Lückoff found himself the unfortunate target of an elaborate apartment rental scam.

Back in late 2009, Lückoff received permission from his university to carry out a research project in Stockholm and had planned to spend the spring 2011 term in the Swedish capital.

When he started looking into accommodation shortly thereafter, Lückoff assumed he'd have plenty of time to sort things out before the start of his programme.

Officials at KTH referred Lückoff to several websites and organisations that cater to the needs of students seeking a place to live in Stockholm.

He eventually placed himself on the waiting list for Stiftelsen Stockholms Studentbostäder (SSSB), the student housing foundation that owns many of the student apartments in the Stockholm area.

What Lückoff didn't realise at the time was that simply joining the agency's queue doesn't necessarily help a student's chances of securing a student apartment.

“There are 80,000 students in Stockholm and altogether there are 13,000 student apartments,” SSSB's Anders Cronqvist explains, adding that the agency has a waiting list of 60,000 people for the 8,000 flats it owns in and around Stockholm.

Months into his search and with time running out, Lückoff posted an advertisement on an online message forum in December 2010.

While many replies seemed suspicious, one response nevertheless caught Lückoff's eye.

A young woman was offering an apartment on Södermalmsgatan – located on the hip and student-friendly island of Södermalm – for 3,000 kronor ($470) per month including utilities.

According to her Facebook profile, the woman was indeed a resident of Stockholm and took the trouble to provide proof of address and photocopies of her ID in exchange for those of Lückoff.

She also sent pictures of the apartment.

“It looked really student-y, but not too over-the-top,” Lückoff says.

“It seemed possible to trust it, or at least I trusted [it].”

Within a couple of weeks, an elated Lückoff transferred a 4,000 kronor deposit plus the first month’s rent to a Turkish bank account he was led to believe belonged to the woman’s lawyer.

As similar arrangements are common in his native Germany, Lückoff didn't think anything seemed out of the ordinary.

A short time later, however, Lückoff heard from family friends in Sweden about reports detailing the troubles facing students looking for apartments in Stockholm.

“That's when we started to have a closer look at things,” Lückoff says.

Additional research revealed – much to Lückoff's horror – that the “student-y” Södermalm apartment he thought he’d be moving to was nothing but a Salvation Army building, impossible to rent out for residents.

“We found out that it was a scam…on the first of January…yeah, that was a happy New Year," he recalls bitterly.

As Lückoff posed more questions to the woman renting him the apartment, she responded with additional her demands – first asking for the second month’s rent, ultimately demanding he pay the entire semester’s rent before coming to Sweden.

Lückoff tried in vain to enlist the help of German authorities and contact the Turkish bank but little could be done.

After spending two straight weeks working to remedy the situation, Lückoff finally gave up.

“I couldn't find any accommodation [in Stockholm]...I didn’t have anywhere to stay and I really needed to concentrate on my exams, so I decided to stay at home,” he explains.

According to Rolf Åkerström of the Stockholm County Police Fraud Unit, Lückoff is not the only house-hunting student to be conned by apartment rental scams.

“Usually it is students who do not reside in Stockholm and are facing an acute housing emergency,” Åkerström says.

"The start of the term is open season for scammers."

Earlier this year, charges were filed against a criminal gang who managed to defraud dozens of Swedish students of hundreds of thousands of kronor using phony apartments ads published on the popular buy-sell website Blocket.se.

However, no precise figures exist regarding the number of victims of student housing scams, and according to Åkerström, there are likely a large number of unreported cases because they are less likely to go to Swedish authorities due to language barriers, unfamiliarity with Swedish law, and other reasons.

Nevertheless, the lack of student housing in Stockholm shows no signs of abating any time soon, according to SSSB's Cronqvist.

For starters, the system is still coping with a demographic boom of people born in the late 1980s and early 1990s which has resulted in a flood of students in the twenties, many of whom need housing.

In addition, the difficulty of breaking into the Swedish labour market has compelled a number of young adults to focus their energy on gaining a university education rather than finding a job, he explains.

Finally, there has been a major increase in the number of international students attending Swedish universities.

At SSSB, for example, one quarter of the tenants are international students.

“It’s very high pressure now,” says Cronqvist of the situation.

And as the pressure rises, so will the desperation of thousands of students who attempt to find housing in Stockholm year after year, making them easy targets for the type of scam that trapped Lückoff.

While police continue to investigate student housing scams, Åkerström explains that fraudsters' creativity keeps police on their toes.

“New approaches come up all the time," he says.

"It's only the imagination of the scammer that sets the limits for fraud."

The police recommend that would-be tenants be sure to see an apartment in person to make sure it really exists.

Story continues below…

In addition to confirming the identity of the person offering the flat, potential renters should also ask to him or her to show their name on the lease.

It's also worthwhile to check with the landlord or housing association to make sure the apartment is actually available for rent.

And according to Åkerström, if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

"One should be wary of apartments in attractive, central addresses that aren't exceptionally expensive," he warns.

"The acute housing shortage in central Stockholm means that there basically aren't any cheap or reasonably priced apartments for rent."

In addition cautions Åkerström, "never pay rent in advance".

Looking back, Lückoff realises he was likely led into a false sense of security by the official looking ID documents sent by the scam artist and didn't take the time to confirm her identity.

“I’d never spoken to the person. That was my mistake,” he says.

Being a foreigner who wasn't based in Stockholm also made Lückoff an easier target.

“People from Sweden, they could just pop by to see what [the flat] is like, but on the internet you kind of need to trust people a bit,” he says.

Lückoff hopes his ordeal will help raise awareness among other foreign students looking to come to Stockholm to be alert to possible housing scams.

"Just be really cautious," he warns.

"Question an offer twice before just accepting it."

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

18:46 August 4, 2011 by Dildo
At SSSB one quarter of the international student means, then rest of the student is Swedish??

No way it will be 95% International student
22:05 August 5, 2011 by something to say
It is unbelievably easy to be led in these scams, you think you are smart and stuff like this will never happen to you, just like I did.

They provide amazing pictures, lovely descriptions of the apartments, ID, lawyer information etc but in the end they just take your money. I didn't report it but should have. Everybody if you are unfamiliar with the swedish housing market be so very very careful!
11:27 August 6, 2011 by graphixperson
I agree, fish. These people have just not grown up yet, and this is a lesson in life. Desperation clouds their judgement. Transfering money to a random bank account in Turkey...that should raise some flags no matter what documentation they provide. As prospective renters, they should grill them with every question they can think of, but they're too worried they'll p!ss someone off and not get the apartment.
15:59 August 7, 2011 by glamelixir
Despite if guy was or not too naive, the point is that the housing market in Sweden can't be this lame and disorganized.

Students should be able to focus on their studies, it is insane to be worrying all the time about moving, where to move, how to move, when to move.

The stress of being homeless every 3 or 8 months is unacceptable.

It is also outrageous that renting a student flat costs almost twice the price of a regular flat, it is common sense, a matter of income (check prices in SB).
23:16 August 7, 2011 by local-aam
I was cheated by a Swedish man named Stefan Lundin (I don't know, if this is his real name or not) who did not pay 1.5 months rent of the apartment that I rented him for two months. In addition, he fled away with the apartment keys (which he could just drop before leaving) thus I had to pay around 2300sek as penalty for the losing keys. It took me 7 hours to clean the apartment and I was so sad (and some of my posts were rude for some days that I couldn't help avoiding). I believed him so much even till the last day before entering the apartment. I possessed a high respect for the Swedes and after this incident ... Now I believe there are bad people in everywhere in this earth.
Today's headlines
This is the new top boss of Swedish Ericsson
Börje Ekholm. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/TT

Telecoms giant Ericsson has appointed a new CEO after a turbulent year for the company.

These are Sweden's best universities: ranking
A new university ranking has been released. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/Imagebank.sweden.se

At least according to this global ranking, which picks 12 Swedish universities among the top-1000.

Swedish pharmacies restrict paracetamol sales for teens
The move is intended to cut paracetamol overdoses. Photo: Nora Lorek/TT

Sweden's pharmacies are banning teens under 18 from buying more than one pack of pills at a time.

The Local List
12 Swedish words with just awesome literal translations
A filthy-minded lobster, i.e. a snuskhummer. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

One of our favourite things about the Swedish language is its wonderful compound words, which range from being utterly bizarre to making perfect sense.

Rwandan genocide suspect held in Sweden
A memorial centre in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

A man has been arrested in Sweden suspected of involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide which claimed 800,000 lives.

Sweden can extend border controls, EU says
A police officer carrying out a check at Sweden's border with Denmark. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT

EU countries including Sweden should be granted permission to extend temporary border controls by a period of a further three months, the European Commission has decided.

Nobel Prizes
'I'd say he's arrogant but I'd be lying': Swedes on Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan performing in France. Photo: David Vincent/AP

Almost two weeks have passed since Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and he has yet to acknowledge the win. The Local asked Swedes what they think of the singer's silence.

Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast by thousands
A Swedish migration authority office in Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

The country has also slashed its prediction for 2017.

Swedish researchers plan new trucks for women drivers
File photo of trucks in Sweden. Photo: Thomas Johansson/TT

Could vehicles adapted for women attract more female truckers to the profession?

These stats show Swedish driving isn't so gender equal
File photo of a Swedish woman driving a car. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A new survey shows that few Swedish women get behind the wheel when driving with their male partner.

Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Will Swedes soon be looking for fairtrade porn?
The Local Voices
'I simply don’t believe in nationality'
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Why we're convinced Game of Thrones is based on Sweden
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
jobs available