Today I am going to tell you how I got scammed for 4200 dollars. That is equivalent to 27 000 NOK to my Norwegian readers. You are probably thinking “Who on earth could Alex have given 4200 dollars to?” Well, I am going to tell you. After almost two weeks back in Sydney I have been living like a nomad*. I have been couch-surfing three apartments, learned the morning routines of 20+ people, awkwardly forced myself to wake up before they did (so that none of them would have to witness me sleep with my mouth open), almost signed a contract to a rat-infested apartment with combined ten girls, fought with my boyfriend and had mosquitos and cockroaches suck the living juice out of me. Not having a place of my own made me pretty much desperate.
After a week, I received a direct mail to my inbox from a guy named Chris Bays. I assumed he had found my email through flatmates.com.au. This guy offered me a beautiful spacious apartment in Central Park for a ridiculously low rent. I was told he lived overseas, so he could not be there for me to inspect the apartment. However, TripAdvisor had given him an “Excellency Award”. Therefore, he chose to work with them rather than a local agency. TripAdvisor had this secure portal where I could make a two-month deposit. When the amount was transferred TripAdvisor would give me the keys to inspect the property myself. If I was not satisfied with the place the company would reimburse the entire amount.
THE RED FLAGS FOR DANGER
I got called by a hidden number claiming they were from TripAdvisor and the guy on the other end spoke perfect english. The website seemed legit with its own card payment section and had previous user recommendations. They told me through the phone that the amount I paid was higher than what their website allowed. Therefore, I had to make a bank transfer to their international bank in Greece. I do not want to worry about an expense that is so significant, so I am used to pay major payments such as rent and university fees upfront. Everything went so smooth and I even joked to my friends that “I might as well be scammed for all that I am aware of.” I should have trusted my gut instinct. It was a big transfer, but I figured I wanted to move in there anyways, so might as well pay to secure it. Biggest mistake ever.
Later that day I walked home and tried to look for my apartment that was supposedly on level seventeen. The building itself was nowhere to be found and if it was it was definitely not seventeen levels high. I went back onto the TripAdvisor page and truly understood what had happened. The entire website was fabricated, the phone numbers listed were disconnected, it was fake recommendations, fake photos and even the link was not real.
It was upsetting and I am human, so I gave myself five minutes to do what I do best – ugly cry. Since I was situated in the living room of an eight-people flat, I had to pull myself together. What I did afterwards was to call my bank and cancel my credit card. I also filed a report on the scam. I can not help but think that this could happen to anyone and if it did not happen to me now, it would probably be sometime in the future with the probability of an even larger amount. Who can know for sure?
RENTAL PROPERTY SCAM
The warning signs?
- If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. The perfect apartment in the best area of the city offered way below the market price. I surely had to take this deal! Although the discount sounded really nice and it seems like a good idea to pay upfront, my advice is for you to not do it. If the market price is significantly higher, something is fishy.
- No inspection / viewing can be made until deposit is transferred. Excuses after excuses.
- The owner lives overseas. This guy was working in the mining industry and was going to live in New Zealand for four years. I can not believe that I assumed any owner would say yes to a person they never have met to move into their home.
- In order to secure the property a two-month deposit has to be made via money transfer. In Australia they pay on a weekly basis and I did not understand the positivity in it before now. I am used to pay the full fee upfront, but I will not do the same mistake again. My advice is to rather pay as you go, because you never know what might happen.
THE KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM MY EXPERIENCE..
When I first came to a realisation what had happened to me, I had to smile at how well-done the scam was. I couldn’t even blame the people who had done this. Never did they threaten or push me into anything – It was solely my own choice to make the bank transfer after thinking I had found the apartment of my dreams.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself, the first thing that came to my mind was that I could use this information and share it with you. I have the possibility to inform numerous of students and first-time renters about being sceptic and how to prevent themselves from scams. All the red flags that I had no idea about. I feel so bad for the deposit money that I had spent saving up on. I have a place to stay now, but I will have to do it all over again in a month. Life is not fair, haha. However, I do take responsibility for my own stupidity and can only hope that my story can be a helpful heads-up for someone else.
I am in Sydney, with less than $500, a cancelled credit card, far away from home and $4200 loss to scammers. Yet, I am not the slightest bit concerned. It might be my inexperience and youthful arrogance to life, but I know everything will be fine. If I knew the struggles I would face, in the crazy over-priced rent market in Sydney, I would never have ended my University Campus contract. But then I would not be chatting with you from level 28th at a high-rise building. Although it is only a short-term lease, I am happy. Moving out from campus was what I wanted for the longest time. No matter how hard the past two weeks have been mentally, the feeling of being content and accomplished has been well worth it.
I discussed with my Australian friend, Luke regarding this entire incident. He said something that reminds me of why I love the Sydney lifestyle and the values it has given me. With his perfect Australian attitude, he said; “You will be alright, mate!”
Have you ever been in a similar situation?
nomad: a person that travels from place to place and has no permanent home.