While looking for an apartment in the Stuttgart area, I came across an offer that had to be too good to be true on one of the classifieds sites. Today I am going to tell this story here, while citing the relevant mails I received verbatim, to help potential victims who are looking up the boilerplate find this post.
First of all, I wasn’t tricked, I didn’t lose any money and the incident has already been reported to the police. I am not that naïve. I saw the warnings signs the first time they replied, but figured: As long as I do not pay or sign any contract I could play along an see where all this leads to. In part I also did this because I am convinced that a not so small percentage of my relatives would have fallen for that scam.
- 3 room apartment
- 90 m² of space
- 660€ base rent
- free of commision
- VDSL at 200Mbit/s available
- straight across the street to the Bad Cannstatt train station
If you’re not familliar with the living situation in southern Germany, I can tell you this is about half of what such an apartment normally would cost. So I immediately contacted the land lord to inquire and to ensure no one picked this one from me.
This is the reply I got:
Thanks for taking the time to look at my apartment. My name is Amer Lundberg, i have inherited this apartment from my aunt who unfortunately passed away last year and as i am not looking to move to Germany, as i was born and raised in England and i have a good job and my family here.The apartment comes with 1 parking spot,a storage unit where you can deposit my furniture (if you don’t like it and you want use your furniture),there is also a linen closet, and most importantly, a new washer and drier. Pets allowed. I really want to find a good and responsible tenant for it and i am looking to rent it for as long as possible, and I hope that you can send me some personal information about yourself. The rent of the apartment for 1 month is EURO 660 all bills included. If you are really interested in rent my apartment please reply back and i will give you more details.
Thank you! Amer Lundberg
Even better, the 660€ basic rent just became the total rent (all bills included).
A quick research yielded nothing. That guy doesn’t have Facebook, no Linkedin, no Amazon, just nothing. Also email@example.com appears to be a newly created or at least rarely used mail address. But its probably just one of GMX’s alias addresses.
You seem to be a very nice person and I can assure you that from my side we will not have any problems .Like I have informed you before, the price you shall pay for 1 month of rent will be 660 euro(all costs included) and i also want one month guarantee deposit 660 euro ( the guarantee deposit 660 euro you will receive back when you leave the apartment ), with no extra taxes to pay. The money, I want to receive monthly to my bank account, so I hope it will be no problem for you to wire the money . Of course you will have to see the apartment before discussing further details . I am willing to send you the keys so you can visit it and see it suits your needs. The delivery for the keys and viewing permit (signed by me), will be made with Airbnb to make sure that we can trust each other. I will explain the procedure if you are interested so please e-mail me as soon as you read this message because I really need to take care of this matter.
AirBnb wouldn’t be my first choice to pay my monthly rent. But entirely sufficient for testing out the apartment for a few months. Besides, one months base rent is a ridiculously low security deposit for such an hot object.
Back to square one
I immediately replied that handling the transaction via AirBnB was accepting to me. To my surprise, I got back the first mail, in which Amer informs me that his aunt had passed. Surely when offering such a great apartment one would of course see a lot of traffic in his inbox, so pasting boilerplate into the wrong window isn’t unheard of.
About two hours later (after “Amer” noticed the mistake, I assume) I received the next mail:
Hello, If you decide to proceed, I will have to contact Airbnb to provide all necessary information so that they can begin the process immediately. You will receive a notification from Airbnb shortly, with all the instructions to follow and the invoice as well. Regarding the payment, you will be instructed to deposit first payment a month’s rent in advance + 1(one) month warranty (EUR 1320) to an account that belongs to Airbnb. I need to pay in advance at the company Airbnb because i came myself for views before and people did not show up(no offence). Airbnb will hold and secure the money until you check the apartment and decide if you want to take it or not. This is how their policy works, customer protection. Once the funds were deposited into their account, they will begin the shipping process. The keys and rental contract will be delivered to your address in not more than 2 days. You will be given control over three days from the day you receive the keys and contract at home. If you decide to keep the apartment, then you will need to authorize Airbnb to release the funds for me and the transaction will be completed. If you are not satisfied with the apartment, you can send the keys and the contract and Airbnb will return the funds to you there and then. Although I am sure you will love the apartment, it is good to know that you have this second option available. If you want to continue renting the apartment, please tell me your name and full address so I can start business immediately through Airbnb. I look forward to hearing from you.
I considered contacting the AirBnB staff and outright asking them, but in the end didn’t because I did’t know how they would react if you abused their service for long-term renting arrangements. I even briefly considered driving by the apartment after work, to get an impression from outside or to try to interview one of the neighbors. Laziness prevailed, I didn’t go.
Doubtfully I then wrote back to Amer telling him that the transaction was on. This is what came back:
I will start the process with airbnb, you will receive their notification via email within the next 24 hours.
Followed by this the next morning:
Airbnb have contacted me to confirm that they have started the process and have sent you the paperwork via email, please let me know if you have received it, otherwise i will inform them to send it again. Please check all the folders of your email address as the notification i had from them did not show in my inbox folder, same thing might have happened to you.
Let me tell you the mere mention to check every folder is a red flag for fraudulent activity. In the year of 2015 messages coming from serious senders, always should be verifiable by SPF and/or DKIM. Especially for financial matters.
AirBnB (as of Sept 2016) seems to have set a strict SPF record that prevents the scammers from spoofing the real senders, thus creating such nonsense adresses like: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Jan Seeger,
We have the pleasure to tell you that we have started the transaction for the visit and renting the apartment located at the following address: Seelberg 31, Code postal: 70372, City: Stuttgart, Country: Germany.
We confirm that we have the keys in our possession and we are ready to send our agent so you can visit the apartment in order to decide if you want to rent it or not. To do so , we will ask you to deposit the money as guarantee in our bank account (see the attached document with the instructions). We will keep your money safe until the visit is over. You do not have any obligation to rent the apartment and we will not take you any fees or any hidden charges if you do not want to rent the apartment. If you will not like the apartment and you will not want to rent it we will refund your money just after the visit (our agent will make the online transfer of refund from his computer in your presence). All the charges are paid by the owner , in this case Mr. Amer Lundberg.
Mr. Amer Lundberg is our Verified Member , he passed our verification and we have also verified all the documents to confirm that he is the owner of the apartment.
We care about your safety.
Please , see the attached invoice and proceed with the transfer as instructed. Also send us an e-mail with the confirmation that the money deposit is made into our bank account (to contact us , reply to this e-mail).
Apart from the text above the mail contained copied AirBnB graphics and logos that were hosted on Google Picasa, and two badly produced PDF documents: a single page “rental contract” and a fake security certificate, they even included the logo of the Mieterinnen- und Mieterverband (Swiss Tenants Association) as to ensure the document would appear legit 😉.
That was the last contact we’ve had I didn’t pay or reply to either “Amer” or “The AirTeam”. I packed everything up and forwarded it to the local police.
Few days after that incident, I again was browsing the classifieds when I found this:
- 3 room apartment
- 74 m² of space
- 440 € base rent
This time they used Patrick Hoerner (email@example.com) replied:
Ich übersetzen , um Deutsch zu schreiben , wenn Sie Englisch sprechen , kommen Sie bitte zu mir auf Englisch. Mein Name ist Patrick Hoerner und ich bin eine 45 Jahre alt aus London - Großbritannien. Ich arbeitete an der Lebensmittelindustrie , aber ich habe aus gesundheitlichen Gründen zurückzog. Meine Wohnung ist für Miete und hat 3 Zimmer: 2 Schlafzimmer, 1 Badezimmer , 1 Küche und 1 Wohnzimmer ( 74 m ²), pro Monat € 440 EUR und Kaution € 1050 EUR . Ich bin der Eigentümer der Wohnung, und der Grund, warum ich die Wohnung mieten wollen, ist, weil ich aa Enkel von meiner Schwester, die ein Studium in Deutschland abgeschlossen , und er mit seiner Familie in Irland zog zurück . Ich oder meine Familie wird den Platz nicht mehr zu verwenden, so dass Sie auch für eine langfristige Miete ( Die Wohnung ist voll möbliert und renoviert). Sie können meine Möbel verwenden, oder Sie können meine Möbel in den großen Keller Lagerkeller zu sehen. Die Wohnung ist noch zu vermieten. Es wurde im letzten Jahr renoviert sieht sehr schön und sauber. Verfügt über eine voll ausgestattete Küche , sauber und ordentlich Wohnzimmer.
Ich werde für Ihre E-Mail warten Mit freundlichen Grüßen,
PS: Dies ist die Website des Unternehmens, das mit der Vermietung meiner Wohnung handelt:(www.aboveallhomes.co.uk)
All’s well that ends well.
In the end I am glad that I found a good, affordable apartment.