Having the opportunity to live and study abroad is a great chance and it represents something students of our generation have become really accustomed to. Along with our familiarity with an international environment, also the general approach to how to find an accommodation has evolved. With the internet, it is easier to find suitable housing in your host country.
However, evil never sleeps and international students have become the target of scams involving real estate in foreign countries.
Students represent an easy prey for scammers given the fact that they have less experience in looking for accommodation, they will most likely not rely on a rental agency, and in case of scam they might not be completely aware of the legal rights they can exercise. Distance is a key component: the inability to meet in person the advertiser and to visit the place opens up the doors to possible frauds. Someone would say that in order to avoid this, the old fashioned way of getting to the town in person and going around, map in one hand, phone in the other, is the safest choice. For sure, it narrows a lot the chances of being tricked. However, this comes to a cost in terms of both money and time. Awareness is the best counterstrategy!
So, here are some generally recognized tips on how a scammer will look like:
- They offer a very nice room at a below average market price
- When you ask for details, they provide you with a very detailed description and photos ( probably lifted from the original ads) but they refuse to meet you on Skype or any other video chat.
- They rush you into close the deal, probably saying that they have some other people interested
- They ask for a money transfer as “proof” of your interest and of the fact that you are indeed able to pay the rent.
Now, given the recent spread of these frauds, online housing websites have not stood idly. Most of them improved their service in order to provide their customers with more safety both in the offer of rooms and in the booking procedure. The coverage of their efforts depends on their specific strategy and on their organizational structure. Sometimes, in order to provide this additional safety, the website requires a small fee from the users to get access to the advertisements. Once again, this could represent a downside for students that may prefer a free solution, given all the expenses they will have to face in their semester/year abroad. Some websites work a lot on keeping scammers out of their platforms, building up verification processes for advertisers or selecting them specifically. Some others provide a secure booking system that guarantees the student until the moment he/she steps into the room.
As you see there are different tools put in place by housing platforms, however ultimately is always the user that can best help himself.
What should you do then if you are leaving for your semester abroad? Just remember that there are always two sides in every matter. You can go there in person, spend some time in a hostel and go and visit the rooms advertised in order to find your accommodation. Or, you can start looking for it online before and do it in a proper, informed way. Choose wisely the website, look for reviews by former users and check if they are responsive in the assistance they provide and if they give some protection against scammers. In this way, you will be able to live only the good sides of your experience abroad!