As Universities reopen, a terrible plague promptly shows up: housing scammers. There is no reliable data concerning the number of victims, but only within the last weeks at least 5 students lamented on Facebook groups being scammed while searching for a room in Groningen.
Extremely high competition in finding an accommodation creates a fertile environment for criminal activities taking advantage of the lack of experience and urgency of newcomers.
Swindled students are mostly internationals who look for a room before moving to the Netherlands and end up losing usually around 1000-1500 euros.
“This is my first experience abroad. I was aware of the risk, but there were an agreement, a valid ID, there was everything!” says Ùlvis Felix, Creative Industries first year Bachelor student from Latvia, who answered to a fake announcement on a free Facebook group after weeks of unsuccessful research.
Extracts of the conversation between the scammer and Ulvis.
Housing frauds proliferate also because they go almost always unpunished. Scammers use fake identities, leaving no trace after luring their victims, and they operate with international bank accounts that are very difficult to retrace. When Ùlvis realized something was wrong, he had already sent to the swindler 1500€.
Extracts of the conversation after Ulvis understood that he had been scammed.
The Facebook group “Free housing announcements in Groningen” counts more than 25.000 subscribers and it’s open to all, without any restriction or control. No surprise it became a scam-hive.
The admin Laura van den Herrewegen works/ed for the renting company ViaFlats. She declared that she has no time to manage the page but avoided further questions.
Is it just negligence or complicity in a scamming scheme? Daniëlle Westra, a student active for years in scam demasking, is suspicious. “I proposed to take over the group as an admin, because it was a mess, but they did not want that. I kept reporting scammers until they blocked or ignored me.”
However, scammers do not only infiltrate Fb groups. Anna Lauenburger, a German Bachelor student, was scammed on the platform Roomster.nl. After disbursing 20€ for the subscription, she exchanged emails with a professed landlord.
Some of the emails sent to Anna by the scammer.
The fraud was meticulously orchestrated. “At the beginning I was suspicious but then they had so many good reasons and explanations that in the end it felt like it was real.” Anna says. “They send me an Airbnb link to their page for the payment and it also looked normal.”
Anna lost 1050€. Both her and Ulvis reported to the police and have a place to live now.
(Article written on 9/9/20)