Common Expat Scams (and 2 Golden Rules to Avoid Them)

You might think that scams are easy to spot, and that you’re above getting caught by them. But the fact is, some scams are decades old and are still being run by fraudsters. There is only one reason for that: people still fall for them. And as a foreigner, you are vulnerable to scams—especially in Germany if you are still learning the language. But what are the common scams to look out for? Read on below for some answers, and two golden rules to minimize your risk of being scammed. 

Or if you want, you could just listen to the podcast episode where I covered this topic: 

Apartment Scams

There is a housing crisis in many of the larger German cities, and this means that finding an apartment can be difficult. It’s even more difficult as an expat, so you could well find yourself desperate for a place to stay. And this desperation can lead to unfortunate expat apartment hunters being easier prey for scammers. 

A very common scam that has been running for years is the phantom apartment:  you find a listing online that is to-die-for. It’s probably a penthouse apartment, maybe fully-furnished, and the rent is very low. You might have found a deal—or you’ve discovered a potential scam! 

The way this works is that spammers post a fake listing. Then, when prospective renters contact them, they claim to live be in another city or country. They then offer to mail the keys to the apartment—once the prospective renter pays a deposit. Quite often, they’ll even provide an account on a reputable Website like Western Union or HomeAway for the renter to deposit the money into. But of course, once the deposit has been paid, the owner disappears without a trace. 

A similar ruse is when you actually meet the “owner” of an apartment, who is in reality nothing of the sort. Here they’ll try to convince you to pay them the deposit, at which point they will disappear, and you will be left without an apartment. Granted, this scam is harder to spot than the other one, since you’re actually dealing with people who are standing in front of you. But a good warning sign should be if the entire process seems very simple. As with everything in Germany, renting apartments comes with its own bureaucracy: you’ll probably need to provide a credit rating, bank statements, salary slips, and other paperwork. If renters are not asking you for these kinds of documents, then you’re probably being scammed.

The tips for avoiding apartment scams are simple: avoid paying money for anything you have not seen, and do not pay any money until you have a rental contract signed by both parties

Job Scams

Scammers may also try and fool expats with fake job offers or recruitment services. This could be in the form of a fake job at a real or fake company, or they claim to be a recruitment agency that can get you into a really appealing job.  At some point in the process, they will try to solicit your personal data, your money, or both. 

Before parting with any money or agreeing on any job, always do your research: check on the company online, verify claims, and even ask on online forums if you need to

Financial Scams

The third kind of scams are financial scams. These include more traditional cons like investment scams, fake financial advisers, and so on. 

Expat entrepreneurs are also very much at risk here. I know a story where scammers pretended to be some kind of European institution that small businesses needed to register with to become “accredited”. The entrepreneur believed it, and signed what looked like a bonafide contract. However, hidden in the fine print was a clause that let the institution take money annually from the expat – legally! It was a large sum of money, too. For someone just setting up a company, this can be devastating.

So always be careful what you sign. And again, do your research.

Two Golden Rules to Avoid Scams

In general there are two golden rules that you can use to minimize your risk of being scammed:

  • Golden Rule #1: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Golden Rule #2: always double check; whether it’s checking with Germans that you know, or expat friends, or going onto Facebook groups or online forums and asking around. Just double check if you’re even the least bit uncertain about something. Or hey, even if you’re very certain about something! Double check whenever you can.

Always keep these two rules in mind, maintain a healthy dose of skepticism and you’re already a difficult target for scammers!

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