So, I’ve mentioned over on my facebook page that I have to move house again soon. My current lease is almost up and it’s not being renewed, so I’m on the hunt for another house share, and it’s proving difficult this time. The rental scene is just saturated with people desperate to find a decent room at a reasonable price.
I also mentioned recently on the facebook page that I was a victim of a rental scam. This post is just to explain what exactly happened, and hopefully it can save somebody the stress and worry that it caused me.
So…I’d been scouring Daft.ie for decent house shares when I came across a double bedroom in a location quite near to me. It was a decent price, €550 a month..not that cheap but slightly more reasonable than many others I’d see which are going for around €600 / €650. The pictures looked nice…again, nothing spectacular that would spark a doubt that maybe this place wasn’t legit, just a decent looking place.
I emailed the person attached to the property, which was a girl named Aine. I didn’t think anything else of it, I’d sent loads of emails and was just waiting for replies. So when I got a reply from an Italian name, I was a bit confused but assumed that the other Aine person was perhaps a rental agent or a friend who had put the ad up in the first place on behalf of the owner.
Now…you’re going to read this and the red flags are going to be waving at you furiously, and believe me when I tell you that when I re-tell what happened, even I want to bury my head in my hands and shake myself for being so gullible, but when you’re in the situation and you’re panicking that you won’t find somewhere on time and you’re desperate to find somewhere suitable, your bullshit radar isn’t so hot.
So anyway..I exchanged a few emails with this guy (I’m not going to name him, I’m sure it was a fake name anyway but it was an Italian name, that’s all you need to know really), discussing viewing the property. I asked him twice if I could meet him to view it, and he told me that unfortunately, he was in Italy so wasn’t available to show me the room personally. His daughter was going to be moving to Ireland in September, she would be staying in the second bedroom, but at that time she was also in Italy so she couldn’t show me. So far, so believable. As far as I could see, this was just a guy who had possibly previously lived in this apartment in Ireland, or was a father with a bit of extra money who was being proactive and sorting out somewhere for his daughter to live when she moved over for school and wanted to make some money on the property and have someone living in it to take care of it.
When I queried how exactly I was to view the property to see if I wanted to rent it, he explained that he was also renting the apartment through Airbnb because an agent from there could do the viewing, it would be safe on my side and his because there wasn’t a stranger on his property and I would be dealing with a professional. Again, at this point, it didn’t seem strange to me. I’d heard of Airbnb plenty of times so I was reassured that it was secure, but I wasn’t entirely sure how the process worked. I’d never heard of long term rentals being rented out through this site but again, this process was new to me so I couldn’t have said with certainty that it was out of the ordinary.
I agreed to this, and asked him how I was to book a viewing. He sent me the link to the apartment on the Airbnb website and told me to book it through that. He told me that to secure the booking, I would need to send a holding fee of the deposit and first month’s rent, a total of €1100 to airbnb who would hold the funds in a neutral bank account until I saw the property. If I decided to rent it, they would release the funds to the owner, I would sign the lease there and then and receive the keys and be free to move in. If I decided I didn’t want to rent the room, they would transfer the funds right back into my bank account. Now..I know right now you’re probably shaking your head and screaming at the screen in frustration at me, telling me what a fool I was not the run for the hills there and then and call this guy out for the conman he was, but again, not being familiar with the process, while strange, I thought it was still above board. A credit / debit card refund would take up to 5 working days, whereas a credit transfer is almost instant. The things you’ll convince yourself of when you truly want to believe them.
I didn’t have the money at that time but I was waiting for a loan to be approved (which I knew it would be) so I decided to go ahead and book the viewing for that weekend. I selected the date and the length of the lease that I wanted, and I received an email from airbnb almost instantly, telling me that they would send me my invoice within the next 24 hours. It was no more than half an hour later when I got the email with the payment options (all wire transfers or online transfers of some type), and it also said that I would need to pay within 48 hours or the booking would be rendered invalid. I was also receiving emails from the owner of the property telling me he had someone else interested in the room so I needed to decide whether I wanted to book the viewing, and to tell him as soon as I had so he could let the other interested party know what was happening.
The email they sent had the details of a bank account in Italy. I checked the place to make sure it was an actual place, which it was, and checked Airbnb’s website to see if that was somewhere they used, and it was listed so I thought it was legit. My boyfriend and my mother both shared their doubts with me and asked me was I sure, before I transferred such a large amount of money but I just put that down to them not having heard of airbnb or being sceptical about online transactions in general.
So, I got my loan and transferred the money to the bank account that I had been told to transfer it to. I checked my emails for confirmation that they had received the email that I had sent them confirming the money was sent but there was nothing. I thought it was a bit odd, assuming the confirmation email would be automatic, but I left it for an hour. When I checked again an hour later, and there was no email, I began to feel like something wasn’t right. Yes, I know, it took me a while, but again, the scam was so convincing up to that point. I sent another email to the airbnb email address that had emailed me and still heard nothing back.
I went back into the correspondence between myself and the Italian owner to check the link for the apartment on airbnb, but when I tried to open it, the webpage had been removed. It had also been removed from Daft. At this stage I pretty much knew I had been conned, but I then Googled the Airbnb email address (firstname.lastname@example.org for anyone wondering) and the first article that came up was one saying that this was a fake email address and it was used in rental scams.
I’ve used the phrase ‘my blood ran cold’ before so many times but this time I swear it actually happened. I could feel myself breaking out in a cold sweat and the blood just drained from my face. I thought I was going to faint, and that’s not even me being overdramatic.
I rang my bank as soon as I saw the article saying it was a scam, but I was told that the money was gone, it wasn’t even in the ‘pending’ stage anymore and that nothing could be done. The girl on the phone was, of course, very apologetic, but that was no use to me really.
I called my boyfriend and my mother and they both advised me to contact the guards. The next few paragraphs of this post are basically what I did after I found out I’d been scammed…just in case you were to find yourself in the same situation.
I contacted Airbnb to verify the ad was false. Airbnb cannot be held liable for this, their logo was faked and used in a fake website, the actual scam and ad is nothing to do with them so don’t expect them to do anything other than express sympathy that it’s happened. I then emailed Daft with the original ad number, just in case they could trace it back to whoever had uploaded it. I still have not received any reply from them. I also emailed the Italian owner, playing stupid and asking him if he had heard anything from Airbnb about the payment because I hadn’t received confirmation – funnily enough, I’m still awaiting a reply.
The guards will take a report but there’s little they can do when it comes to the money – especially if you transfer it out of your account yourself. They cannot contact the bank on your behalf without a warrant and I was told that for something minor like this (compared to serious fraud or murder etc) it could take up to two years for a warrant to be issued. They took my name and my number and said they’d call me in to make a statement…a week later and I still haven’t been called in though. They did however record the incident on their Pulse system and gave me a crime number that I could give to the bank to let them know that the Guards were involved.
I then contacted the bank. I chose the completely wrong time to be scammed, because apparently, the out of hours non-plastic (ie anything that’s not credit / debit card fraud) don’t work bank holiday weekends. I could write a whole other blog post about the ridiculousness of that, but I won’t get into it. Let’s just say, the bank were not the most helpful in the situation when on the phone. Let me just say now, because I’m sure you’re probably thinking I’m being overly harsh and playing the victim here – I KNOW I willingly transferred the money…there was no gun to my head, nobody forced me to press that button, I did it always knowing in the back of my mind that there was a risk involved. I 100% take responsibility for sending that money to the account of someone that I did not know. My request to the bank was that, now that I knew it was a fraudulent account that it was on it’s way to, they simply freeze the money when it got there. Just to contact the Italian bank and tell them that the money was to be frozen. Just to give me some chance of getting it back.
Now, I was told that there was nobody there that was able to do that, and that there would be nobody there that could do it until the following monday (this was on a thursday). So, basically giving up hope, I wrote the money off and left it at that.
There is a happy ending to this story though, thankfully. I don’t know how, I’m not sure if my bank managed to sort it out, or if there was already some sort of alert or freeze put on the fake account, but when I checked my bank account on monday morning, the money had been put back into it. Honestly, I was blessed and I’ve never felt a sense of relief like it. I can put it behind me, with no harm done, and a serious lesson learned.
Call me stupid, call me a fool, call me whatever you want but let me just tell you, when you’re on the outside looking in, it’s so easy to spot these scams. Usually I’m the first person to see it, I’ll always triple check email addresses and the names of people I’m corresponding with, this time though I just didn’t. I was blindsided by the appeal of what was being offered, and that’s the dangerous thing these days…everyone is so keen to find something decent, somewhere they can live, and these con artists are preying on that, and exploiting it for a few thousand euro.
So, what I learned from this, what I already knew really, but what I want to share with you, and make you aware of is..
-Never EVER EVER agree to send money to someone you’ve never met, NEVER transfer money to a ‘neutral’ bank account because they don’t exist, someone always owns the account.
-Never agree to give someone money for an apartment or room until you’ve physically seen it and been in it.
-Always double check any email addresses that you receive communication from, especially if it’s a supposed site. If I had have searched the airbnb email address, none of this would have happened.
-Do a reverse search of any images you’re sent on Google to see where they’re really from.
-Get a phone number from the person you’re corresponding with and try to call them. The guards told me this…you might pick up on a dodgy accent if it’s someone pretending to be from a different country, or you might just pick up something off about them.
-If you’re renting through a site like Airbnb, give them a call and verify the ad is real.
-Listen to others. I had two of my closest people in my life telling me they had doubts about it, and I didn’t listen. These are the people with your best interests at heart, and you should listen to them, cause they’re probably right.
That’s my tale of how I was scammed by the fake Italian landlord, and how I was so lucky to come out the other site unscathed, but a lot more wary. I most definitely won’t be making that mistake again.