So here’s the problem: After seeing several posts on various Expat pages on Facebook, I am sick and tired of seeing innocent people get scammed. It makes me so angry that people who are moving to Paris, or even already living here, are losing their money to criminals. Criminals who are using our safe spaces online to target people who are susceptible to scams. When I say susceptible I mean people, like myself, who like to see the good in people, who trust others easily and who take people on their word. And also, people who may be first time renters and who may not know what to expect or what is normal when renting a place. Sadly, a lot of people get scammed nowadays and we have to accept that there are some bad people in this world who will take advantage of a situation.
So what can we do to avoid this? Well, the best thing we can do as expats is read up on how best to identify scams, before they have a chance to pull the wool over our eyes.
Here are my top tips for avoiding a scam:
1. Research the average price of rentals in your area
The best thing you can do before you start looking is do some research on the average price of rentals. First things first, you should know that the price for rent is extremely high in Paris. There is such a high demand for studios and even rooms in the city that spaces can rent out for a much higher price. If you see a studio or flat renting out for a very low price then it is most probably a scam. Expect to pay a high price and be suspicious of anything that’s TOO cheap. It could also be a sublet, something that is quite common but nonetheless illegal in Paris.
Also, if it looks too good to be true, it most probably is.
I have had friends call me and say…
“Chloe I’ve found this great apartment in central Paris it’s; 40 sqm, has a balcony, a small garden and a large bedroom, kitchen and bathroom! And It’s only 500 euros a month!!”
To which I have immediately replied, ignore the ad and keep looking for an apartment that actually exists. Some of my friends were very shocked when they realised that a good 20% of what they were looking at were in fact, scams. Not only on Facebook but on Craigslist too.
Here is an example of a current post on Craigslist: 700 euros for a 2 bedroom luxury apartment that is 85 square metres. This is quite clearly a SCAM. If you do a little research you’ll see that, on average, a 1 bedroom 25 sqm apartment rents out for about 1000 euros in Paris, and even more if it’s located in a good area. Find out the average prices in Paris first for different size apartments before you start looking, that way you can pick out the scams.
2. Never EVER wire money
The most common sign of a scam is the person asking you to wire money. There’s no reason they would need to request payment by wire transfer only to pay a security deposit, application fee or first month’s rent. Even if they sent you a contract first, avoid wiring money. I spoke to at least ten people who had lost money to scams, the worst being over 1500 euros. Remember wiring money is like mailing cash — once it’s gone, there’s nothing you can do to get it back.
Careful: If the owners or managers ask for a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease, it may also be a scam.
3. Run an internet search on the advertisement
You may also want to conduct an Internet search on the owner. If you find the ad listed under a different name, it’s probably a scam. You can also run a Google search using the text: if you copy and paste the text into Google and it IS a scam you are most probably not the first person to have come across it. Lastly, you can drop and drag the images into Google and see what search results they come up with. Often the photos are fake and stolen from other, legitimate websites.
4. Verify the name and location of the street
Google maps is going to become your best friend when you’re looking at apartment ads in Paris. You can use google maps to verify addresses and double check that they a) actually exist and b) that the building is where it is supposed to be! A good example of how helpful this can be is when Camelia, an expat in Paris, used google maps to check an offer that she received about a beautiful apartment. When she verified the name of the street visible through a window in one of the photos it was, surprise surprise, not at all where the email said it was. Google maps is your friend, use it!
4. Do not trust anyone who says they are not in Paris
The majority of scammers are abroad and are not actually based in France at all. A perfect example was a girl I spoke to via Facebook. She was advertising a room on Roommates in Paris which was quite clearly a scam. The apartment was much too large, the price too low and the apartment location false. I contacted her anyway because I wanted an idea of how scammers work. She immediately told me she was currently in Amsterdam and was renting the room for her mother who didn’t use Facebook. She said she couldn’t meet me but if I sent her the security deposit she would send me the contract and her mother would meet me with the keys. PERFECT EXAMPLE: never trust people who say they are abroad and cannot show you the apartment. Always meet the person who you have been in contact with you and of course, never send money before!
5. If you are a blogger create a tiny URL to find out the real location of the renter
Regarding scammers being abroad; there is a clever way that you can catch them. Kevin Knight, the organiser of the Expatriates in Paris group, shared this fantastic tip with me. If you are a blogger, go to your blog and use your website link to create a tiny URL. When you have reduced your website to a tiny URL, send it to the person you believe might be trying to scam you. Ask them: Is this where the apartment is? When they click on the link you will be able to trace their location. If they are not in Paris you will soon find out! Click here to find out how to do this.
6. Be aware of Identity Theft risks
In some cases, they may not be after your money, but your identity. Be cautious about giving out your Social Security number, bank account or any piece of identity. Sometimes, a landlord wants to check your credit, especially if you’re renting in a competitive real estate area. Often the landlord will ask for permission to obtain your work contract with proof of salary when you fill out a rental application which in itself is not a red flag. They need to know you can afford to pay the rent! However, be careful – if a “landlord” sends you a link to enter personal and financial information, this could be a ploy to steal your identity. Only enter this type of information on secure, trusted sites.
So, what’s the best way to find an apartment in Paris?
Honestly…the best way is to use a verified and highly recommended agency.
If you can afford it, the best way to find a flat in Paris is through an agency. Lodgis and Paris Housing are two very well-known and respectable agencies. Agencies will find you legitimate, nice apartments with respectable landlords. They will help you with any documentation questions and ensure that you have a good rental experience. However, using an agency is expensive so make sure you enquire about the fees before agreeing to go through an agency.
If you can’t afford an agency or can’t pay for an independent apartment, use sites such as pap.fr and appartager.fr to find roommates. There is less paperwork involved and the price of rent is much more reasonable.
It won’t be an easy ride but don’t worry, you will find something! Just don’t give up and DON’T get scammed!