Help me avoid getting scammed by London Landlord
April 27, 2010 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the US. Do I have any reason to believe that I'm being scammed by this person in London from whom we are considering renting an apartment? Link to apartment and other details inside...

We need an apartment in London for four nights. The one that we are considering is this one.

My concerns are:

1 - All of the reviews have a "stay date" on the 1st of the month. For some reason that strikes me as suspicious. Is it possible that the reviews (which are all excellent) were written by the manager?
2 - I've never heard of FlipKey. Is that a reputable organization? And, even if it is, is it prone to scam like other reputable organizations (e.g., eBay, craigslist)?
3 - The oddest part for me is that the manager has an Isreali email address (ending in and right there on the FlipKey page under Manager Info his webpage is an Isreali page. Obviously he might be an Isreali living in London, but would he have an Isreali email address if that were the case? Is this any reason to be suspicious, or am I making something of nothing?

Those of you with experience: Please advise us: How do we avoid getting ripped off. And specifically, does this listing look like a safe bet or not? I'm traveling with three kids and it would be a nightmare to arrive and find that we had no where to stay.

Thanks for any help you can provide.
posted by crapples to Travel & Transportation around London, England (16 answers total)
Can't address anything else in your post, but the 1st of the month thing looks like it could just be flipkey's method of leaving feedback - noting the month that you stayed but not specific dates (the default would be the 1st, and you put down what month you were there).
posted by amicamentis at 9:52 AM on April 27, 2010

Best answer: Other posts have the same 4/1, 5/1, 11/1 stay date.
posted by amicamentis at 9:54 AM on April 27, 2010

I can't vouch for the site or the owner, but a random flip through the site shows that *all* reviews for all locations have a stay date on the first of the month. I guess it's just the way their system works. So I don't think that suggests that the reviews are fake (it's usually really obvious when they are, anyway).

Ha, on preview, what amicamentis said.
posted by different at 9:55 AM on April 27, 2010

Best answer: It appears legitimate and operated by TripAdvisor. Crunchbase mentions that the reviews are supposedly from actual renters, and apparently not subject to deletion (like VRBO, which I used once, and probably never will again).
FWIW, I think the reviews appear legitimate.
posted by walleeguy at 10:02 AM on April 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks - I should have checked that myself. So, let's consider #1 on my list resolved. Thanks for your help. Anyone else have feedback about the other two items of concern?
posted by crapples at 10:03 AM on April 27, 2010

I think someone above noted that FlipKey is run by TripAdvisor.

As for the email address thing, well, the listing says it's managed by the owner. If the owner is Israeli, and now living in Israel, and not London (hence the availability of the apartment), it would make sense for him to have an Israeli email address and website.

In other words, there is no logical inconsistency here--the owner is also the manager, and he owns an apartment in London which he does not live in (or at least does not live in all the time) because his primary residence is Israel.
posted by devinemissk at 10:07 AM on April 27, 2010

I don't know about your other concerns, but I thought you'd like to know that the tube line this apartment is on (Jubilee) closes for some weekends. So if your stay includes a weekend, I would seriously consider staying somewhere else. A closed line makes for added travel time, sometimes significantly more travel time. That said, I don't know how long the closures are happening (it looks like the line is open the weekend of May 8, but not the 15th, etc.). It's worth checking out planned closures before making a final decision on where to stay. I wish we had done that when we were planning our trip last year.
posted by cooker girl at 10:12 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

International apartment rentals can be a little nerve wracking - for both sides. (Still, so much nicer than hotels!) Can you call the renter? I always call and talk to the renter, which I think helps. I usually insist on paying a deposit only, and paying in full upon arrival. It's never been an issue.
posted by Nothing at 10:14 AM on April 27, 2010

Best answer: Re: 3, email addresses are pretty inherently not tied to current residential location. My dad, for example, has a email address as his primary email address despite the fact that he hasn't lived in New Zealand for many years. I would not really think of this in itself as a cause for concern.

It looks like the webpage is that of a tourism outfit targeted at Israelis travelling to Europe, so it makes sense that it would be an Israeli website, in Hebrew, etc. and would also explain this guy's email address especially if the email domain is the same as the website one.

The reviews look genuine to me, for what that's worth.

As for not getting scammed, I would pay by credit card if that option is available (and, personally, think twice if it isn't) as you will likely have more recourse if it does turn out to be a scam ad.
posted by lwb at 10:18 AM on April 27, 2010

I had a very good experience using these guys when I booked a London flat from the US. They hold payment in escrow until you arrive and give the "all OK".
posted by qwip at 10:19 AM on April 27, 2010

Response by poster: Yes - I didn't mention that he wants 2 days deposit. This seems to be pretty normal when I look at other completely unrelated properties. He asked me to wire the deposit to him. I will ask if CC payment is an option.

As for the owner living in Isreal, I don't think he does. He is mentioned by name in some of the reviews as being a nice guy and "answering questions with a smile", etc. But according to lwb, this may not be something to be concerned about.
posted by crapples at 10:36 AM on April 27, 2010

Someone with an email address ending in an Israeli domain name could be located anywhere globally. The geographical location of the country to which the country-level domain name refers and the geopgraphical location of the person to whom a particular email with that country-level domain name is issued have nothing to do with one another.
posted by dfriedman at 11:25 AM on April 27, 2010

I should have mentioned: paying by credit card over the phone is what I always try for. It's how I paid the deposit for where I am staying now!
posted by Nothing at 2:55 PM on April 27, 2010

If anyone asked me to wire them a deposit in advance, no matter how plausible the place looked on the internet, I would immediately score them off my list. Either they're a scammer, or they're so unaware of correct procedures (virtually every page of craigslist warns against paying anything in advance for unseen goods!) that they don't deserve your custom. If they want to rent their property out on the internet they should set up an escrow account, or some other mechanism for avoiding looking like a great big scammer.

Reference point: I unexpectedly hosted a foreign PhD student for three months last year after the flat for which he'd paid €600 in rent/deposit in advance proved, upon his arrival from the airport, not to exist. (This was in the UK.)
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:44 PM on April 27, 2010

I was looking for an apartment rental in Manhattan for about a week. I found some great ones advertised on Craigslist and got lots of information about them. Then two responses arrived. They were for different addresses but they had identical reviews and pictures - even though they apparently came from different people. I started checking the responses more closely and decided that even if they weren't all scams, I did not have the ability to distinguish between the honest ones and the scams. From what other posters have said, the site you used is more reliable than Craigslist. None the less, what's your fallback solution if you're scammed?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:29 AM on April 28, 2010

It's not uncommon for people to have email addresses from countries they don't live in. Ex-pats often still have emails from where they came from, or specifically choose hotmail.old_country for nostalgia/self-identification reasons. If it's a corporate email address, he may just work for a company based overseas.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:34 AM on April 29, 2010

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