Weirdest scam ever or what?
February 4, 2015 12:23 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I want to rent an apartment in Geneva. We found a place that looks promising, but the whole thing seems kind of fishy. Can you please help us figure out if this is a scam or not?

My boyfriend and I want to move in together and are looking for a place in Geneva, which is notorious for its apartment shortage. (Or at least people say it's super difficult to find a place there. At the moment, he lives in his university dorm and I live outside of Geneva close to my workplace.)

Someone sent us a link to a place and we contacted the alleged landlord. He sent us a couple of pictures and after we answered a couple of questions about us (financial situation, smokers or not etc.), he told us the address, which actually seems to exist. He claims to be in the UK, however, and at first said he cannot show us the apartment because he's a busy man. When we insisted on seeing the place before we make any payment, he sent this:

"I can understand your points that you want to see the place before you
pay and move in so here is a safer plan to arrange the renting.I can
book my flight ticket down to the Geneva and meet you right inside my
flat by Friday but of course I need assurance before I do,this is
because I don't want to come without assurance and cos someone has
wasted my time in the past.So what you do is,look for a Western Union
office and transfer the rent and deposit using UK as destination.But
pay attention to this I do not ask you to send it to me.You will make
use of any of your friend that you trust as receiver
so that you can be sure that your money is still safe and I can't get
it until we meet.After the transfer you will send me the scanned
receipt. And I can book my flight ticket.So after this I will meet you
and if you are satisfied with everything inside the flat.Then I will
give you the keys and you will go back to WU office to change
receivers name back to my name.But In the case that you don't want to
rent it after you saw the apartment,just go back to WU office,cancel
the transfer and get your cash back."

This sounds super suspicious to us. (Why can he suddenly just fly over? How does he do business in the UK with that English?) We also wonder what this would accomplish for him, though. Our British friend says Western Union is often used for scams, but how would he scam us here if we're not supposed to transfer the money to him?

We are 99% convinced that this is a scam attempt and will not go forward with his proposal, but I simply want to know how he was planning to scam us.
posted by LoonyLovegood to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Western Union scams. I suspect this person will produce fake ID with your friend's name on it, then produce the scanned receipt at his local WU.
posted by Etrigan at 12:26 PM on February 4, 2015 [18 favorites]

Doesn't really matter how it'd work, but yeah: it sure stinks of scam. Trying to rent out an apartment that isn't his is my own first guess, with a second guess of him somehow cashing the Western Union money order (via identity fraud, claiming to be the friend you have named) from the scanned receipt and never actually showing up at the apartment. Either way, run.
posted by easily confused at 12:26 PM on February 4, 2015

Of course we're not going to transfer any money!

The guy (or scam company, I guess) knows our full names and my address (that will change soon anyway) plus phone numbers, which I realise was stupid to give them, but since the offer came through a friend of a friend, we thought it seemed legit at first.

Is there anything they can do with our information? How do we best decline the offer without making them lash out in retribution?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:30 PM on February 4, 2015

Quite a few people reporting the same scam, including people who reported going through with it and having the money stolen. They were planning to scam you by getting the money from WU either by pleading their case ("I lost my wallet and ID and my friend sent me this money! See, they sent me a copy of the receipt!") or by faking some identification.

Just stop communicating with them. Their scam depends on generating a high enough volume of leads that some people are bound to respond. They don't have time to retaliate against every person who catches wind of their scam.
posted by muddgirl at 12:34 PM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

"We found another apartment. No need to book your flight."
posted by 724A at 12:38 PM on February 4, 2015 [16 favorites]

Please. No one flies from London to Geneva to show a flat. You ask a friend to do it for you, or the concierge, or an agent. It's unreasonable from the very beginning, never mind the low-quality English and the tortured transfer instructions.
posted by ubiquity at 12:54 PM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just to give you more of an idea of how these things work: as you probably figured, the terrible grammar and typos are a giveaway. Apparently, from what I've read, these folks deliberately make these things full of mistakes and sound ridiculous, because they only want the stupidest of people to reply to them (since they are the only ones who might fall for it). Everyone else is a waste of their time.
posted by Melismata at 12:56 PM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Your name, address, and phone number are pretty publicly-available information. There's not anything the scammer could do with them now that they couldn't do at any time. You can email that you rented another place, thanks anyway, but retaliation is unlikely.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:05 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you haven't already, you might want to tell your friend and the friend of the friend that it is a scam so that they stop using whatever source they got it from.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:10 PM on February 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

A good rule of thumb for any financial transaction (not done in person): decline the transaction the moment the seller or buyer mentions Western Union, unless you really and truly know that person.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:56 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would under no circumstances ever rent an apartment sight unseen via the internet. Especially not in a city near where I already lived and could easily visit to hunt for apartments in person.

Nobody is ever going to try to rent a real apartment in real life without showing it to prospective renters. I mean how do they plan to give you the keys? What happens if something ever breaks or goes wrong? Who handles maintenance on the building or admin related to collecting/depositing rent money?

Even if this is legit, why would you want to rent from someone who lives in a different country, cannot get to the place quickly, and apparently doesn't have any kind of local representative? I mean shit what happens if the heat breaks or there's a leaky pipe? Your landlord guilts trips you about having to fly in from London to fix it?

Oh, and mention of Western Union as a form of payment of anything at all ever for any reason, in an apartment rental context, is sketchy. Nope. The "receiver" thing is a red flag, too. Why would money be changing hands for any reason before you ever see the apartment? Why would you need to wire money anywhere if he's going to "refund" it if you decide not to take the place? Even if this is a legit person who really lives overseas and travels back and forth frequently enough that this is workable, what does that have to do with you and your money?
posted by Sara C. at 3:23 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

My son was almost the victim of the same scam in Vancouver a few weeks ago, with a different payment agency, but almost the exact wording and set-up. This time the "landlord" was in the US. He was saved because it all seemed just too weird eventually and no money ever changed hands. I had no idea that this was an international scam.
posted by angiep at 4:17 PM on February 4, 2015

I simply want to know how he was planning to scam us.

How? By forging an ID and retrieving the money. An the person may not even be in the UK. I think with Western Union, you can retrieve the money from anywhere.

Good luck with your search.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:46 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Weirdest scam ever or what?

'what'. A scam so un-weird that craigslist literally warns you about it at the bottom of every page.
posted by destructive cactus at 1:58 PM on February 5, 2015

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