Fraudsters exploit student house hunt

Fraudsters exploit student house hunt
As Swedish authorities warn students desperate for accomodation to be wary while hunting for homes, buy-sell site Blocket has asked its users to keep their wallet sealed until a contract is penned.

Swedish fraud police warned that con-men usually nick pictures from real-life apartment listings to create fake 'to let' adverts and post them online.

Thomas Bäcker, security chief at Sweden's popular buy-sell Blocket, told The Local there were several steps that students should take to protect themselves. The first, to understand that any serious would-be landlord would want to meet a potential tenant before putting pen to paper.

“If I rent out my apartment, I feel pretty vulnerable as a landlord too. You don't want to rent your home out to just anyone,” Bäcker said.

He said Blocket's introduction of a new contract with its advertisers had seen reports of fraud dwindle in the past year. The advertisers promise Blocket not to ask for the deposit before a contract has been signed. The “Rent safely” (Hyr säkert) warnings now pepper any housing classified on the site.

“If a landlord starts talking about sending money, that's when you should report him to us,” Bäcker said.

He said that old-school warnings and reminding flat hunters to rely on instinct and common sense, despite the desperation that many feel, was better than inventing fancy technical solutions online to weed out potential fraudsters.

“The challenge is that there will always be another fraudster out there ready to give it a go,” he said. “That's why there's little point to attempt difficult technical solutions, because they can still be manipulated which means you can't promise security on the site.”

Instead, old-school warnings to keep be on guard against potential scams means less people fall foul of fraudsters, and thus makes the market less attractive for con-artists. Too little bang for their buck, in other words.

“My next advice is to always ask to see the original contract,” Bäcker continued. “Make sure the person whose name is on the contract – whether it's a cooperative (bostadsrättsförening) or a landlord (hyresvärd) – is the person you have in front of you.”

Both cooperatives and private landlords will have to have given the owner or tenant the right to sublet their apartments, so Bäcker advises that you make sure they have approved that you move in and ask to see the letter.

Lastly, while the government recently liberalized rules governing the amount of money a person can demand for a sublet, there are still regulations governing how much.

If a student is set to sublet a cooperative apartment (bostadsrätt) , the Hyresnämnden website will tell them how much the landlord can legally charge for it.

“A lot of people think people can charge how much they want now,” Bäcker said of the sublet reform. “But it's a 'reasonable' supplementary charge that the reform has allowed. “

According to police, foreign students looking for accommodation in Stockholm's already tight housing market are particularly vulnerable.

Ann Törnkvist

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