Rumen Manev - Thoughts, Musings, Stuff |||

How I almost got scammed looking for an apartment in Berlin

Looking for an apartment in Berlin in 2017 is a madhouse. I’ve been doing it for about 2 weeks now, as I’ll be starting a new job in the city, but I’ve heard stories of people, who are living in temporary accommodations for months before finding a flat. One guy summed it up perfectly in this comment on Facebook, under a job seeker post:

Jobs are plenty in Berlin, it’s harder to find a place to live.

That being said, imagine my surprise when I received the following e-mail:

Rough translation:

Dear Rumen,
Yes the room is still free. Please, write me something about yourself. Age, occupation, nationality, etc. I’m sorry to bother you.
It would be nice if you could tell a little bit about yourself to see if it’ll work out.
Photos, rent, deposit and address of the apartment will be disposed to your knowledge.
Good morning,
Best regards,

Most of you might say, of course it’s a scam, look at the inadequate writing. But imagine being desperate to find a place to live. You’re racing against time and you finally receive an answer. You really want to believe that it’s true and you start thinking about excuses. Maybe he’s not German, that’s why the writing is so bad — maybe he’s using Google Translate. Maybe he was in a hurry, because he has to answer a lot of e-mails. I answered Christoph’s e-mail with a little bit of details about myself, why I’m coming to Berlin and included some of my social media profiles, you know, to prove I’m not a fake person. Shortly after, I get the following e-mail from Chris:

Rough translation:

Good day Rumen,
Thank you for the information. That sounds perfect. I’m happy to meet you. The apartment is centrally heated and well furnished. The 20 sq.m. room is completely equipped, has wlan internet.
The room is located on a cross road, one has to be a little noise resistant if the windows are open. The windows are well isolated, if closed, there’s no problem with noise.
The flat itself is well organised, your room is next to the living room with a big TV, table and a corner for chilling. The kitchen is equipped with a built-in kitchen (incl. washing machine and fridge). There’s a table with 8 chairs in the living room. There’s a mirror in the bathroom, as well as a sink with a cabinet. (…) The surroundings are excellent. Lots of places to buy stuff, cafes, restaurants are directly around the corner. Additionally, you can reach bars, clubs, markets and galleries within minutes walking distans.
Address — Friedenstrasse 36 10249 Berlin Friedrichshain
Monthly rent (all incl.)—350 EUR
Deposit (refundable) — 700 EUR
Side expenses are included in the rent. If you think it can work out I can write a little bit about myself. I would be happy to get an answer from you.
Attached, you can see some photos of the apartment.”

As I mentioned, the first red flag was the weird wording, which became evident with every next e-mail. Aside from the fact that the deal seems too good to be true, it’s also odd that someone offering an apartment would spend so much time writing long e-mails with detailed descriptions. People who post apartment offers receive hundreds of e-mails per week. Having a multi-email discussion with a single potential tenant is not likely. Still, all the small suspicions I was having were plausibly deniable. So I continued, telling Christoph the offer sounds good and that he can tell me a little bit about himself. I also asked if he could share his FB profile. The e-mail I received back was in English.

As you can see, the wording is still a bit off. The guy says he’s half German and half UK, but evidently can’t write properly in either language. Again, it’s a much longer e-mail than I would’ve expected, but an accusation like that sounds silly by itself — I don’t trust this guy because he writes lenghty e-mails.” Maybe the guy likes to express himself.

It’s interesting how he mentions important details mixed inbetween marginal information. He says there’s a desk for reading in the room and that I need to pay two months rent plus the deposit up front, all in the same sentence. Conveniently, he also doesn’t use Facebook, so he couldn’t send me a profile. Other than that, everything is jolly good and we’d be living together as besties. At this point, I write how wonderful of a person he seems and that I think we’ll get along excellently. I also asked if a friend of mine could come by and have a look at the apartment, since I’ll be arriving in Berlin in two weeks. The plot thickened.

Christoph actually sent me a copy of his ID card, as well as a scanned flight ticket from Warsaw to Berlin for the 23. December. The ID card looks very real, which confused me for a second. Then again, there’s no information about a person of that name anywhere on the Internet.

It’s a well thought through plot. He provides bits of information spread out in several e-mails, before delivering the final detail. He’s not actually in Berlin, but he’ll send me the keys. I assumed it’s self-explanatory that I’ll have to pay him the money upfront. Still, I asked him to describe step by step how he imagines this would go down.

I wrote back a short reply, saying this is getting absurd. I also asked if renting is normally done this way. Chris wrote:

This is where I lost interest in playing along and told Chris I won’t be going forward with his offer.

Perhaps I should’ve pushed a bit further to see how far things would go. I could’ve also messed around with him a little bit to have something to laugh about with my mates. But to be honest, I neither have time, nor am I in the mood. After all, I need to continue looking for an apartment, just like all the hundreds (thousands?) of people sending e-mails every day.

It makes me sad that there are so many individuals trying to scam people and this probably makes everyone trust each other less. My point is to be careful what you agree on (especially on the Internet) and always consider things carefully even when you’re pressed by time or other circumstances.

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