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Rental scams: the 4 most common schemes

Finding accommodation
Francesca Hausch
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Rental scams: the 4 most common schemes

Published on
October 26, 2022
Last updated on
January 17, 2023

When looking for accommodation in France, you might come across rental scams. This is, unfortunately, a very widespread practice. It is, moreover, particularly targeting students. Here is our best advice to help you detect scams, avoid them and respond accordingly.

In case of a long-distance apartment research, you might consider using the services of an estate agency. It is a bit more expensive, but you are less likely to run into scams. Check Livinfrance's services >

How to avoid rental scams?

Even if no one is really exempt, there are a few steps you can follow to make your accommodation research safer and avoid rental scams.

Step 1: Be aware of the state of the real estate market

When moving to a foreign country, you should always get to know how the real estate market works. Indeed, it allows you to spot what a normal rental offer is and what a scam might look like.

If you are moving to France, here is what you need to know to avoid rental scams.

The types of landlords

There are really 2 types of landlords you might come across during your housing research.

  • Estate agencies are often involved in the rental of housing. They either rent their own properties or manage the rental of properties for private owners. To know if an agency is reliable, you might look it up on Google. If it has a "SIRET" number, it means it is properly registered and rents properties in the legal provisions. Registered agencies are not likely to advertise rental scams.
  • Private owners can choose to have their property rented out by themselves. Most of them will post their offer on online housing rental platforms (eg: leboncoin, the French equivalent of Craiglist).

The types of housing websites

  • Professional websites: estate agencies usually have a website on which you can find verified offers (eg : livin-france.com). Just type on Google "agence immobilière + your city" and you will fin their websites. Choice tends to be a bit more limited.
  • Rental platforms : these are websites where almost anyone (company or private person) can post accommodation offers. You will therefore find a large amount of offers, but need to be very careful as it is where most rental scammers operate.

Avoid rental scams: the reality of the market

In order to avoid rental scams, you should also inquire about the key figures of the market (average rent, duration of housing research, best time to start your research, etc). For France, we would advise you to rely on these figures :

  • Average rent (for a studio): €850/month in Paris, €550/month in other big cities (Lyon, Bordeaux, Lille...), €420/month in medium-sized cities (Nancy, Amiens, Perpignan...)
  • Average duration of housing research: 4 months
  • Best time to find accommodation (for an arrival in August/September): May-June

Step 2: Look for accommodation on trusted websites

Looking for accommodation on reliable websites is usually a safe way to avoid rental scams. As mentioned, registered estate agencies' websites are usually safe and reliable. Still, if you want to be adventurous and look for accommodation on rental platforms like Leboncoin or Facebook Marketplace, here is what you should be careful of.

Rental scams on Leboincoin (French Craigslist)

Leboncoin is the French Craiglist, a website on which anyone can advertise their property. Therefore, when looking for a property on leboncoin, you are very likely to come across rental scams. Here are the signs you should look for when browsing accommodation offers on leboncoin:

  • A very cheap rent: when the advertised property has a monthly rent that is €100 cheaper than the "fair market value", it is most of the time a scam. You can calculate the fair market value for the type of accommodation you are looking for by making a little research and average out the rental prices of the listings meeting your criteria.
  • The pictures of the property: pictures are a very effective way to detect potential scams. Indeed, as scammers usually do not own an apartment or a house, they have to get pictures from other housing ads. Just proceed to an image search on Google. If you find photos of the accommodation on other sites, at a different address (eg: one property located in the 2nd district of Paris, and another in the 17th district), it is probably a scam.

Rental scams on Facebook Marketplace/Facebook groups

Many international students use Facebook to look for accommodation in France. It is an efficient way to connect with the current tenants of the flat, especially when you want to move into a shared flat. Still, in France, many scammers use Facebook to connect with students and extort money from them. Like on leboncoin, a very cheap rent or pictures copied from another listing are signs you should look out for. Here are additional tips:

  • Comments on dozens of housing research posts: on Facebook groups, many students are posting to get recommendations. Some scammers will comment dozens of posts: "pm sent", "I sent you a lead", etc.
  • The profile picture: scammers will avoid using their real identity, or will use someone else's identity (hacked accounts, or people they have previously scammed). If the “landlord” you are talking to does not have a profile picture, or their profile picture is not their face (a flower, a drawing, etc), it should ring a bell.
  • Account recency: scammers often use "throwaway accounts", recently created. If the account is less than 6 months old, it is not a good sign.

Step 3: Learn how to detect red flags

Even if you can never be sure the person you are interacting with is reliable, there are some signs that should ring a bell.

Mandatcash, Transcash, bank transfers: the ultimate red flag

If you are asked to send some money via Mandatcash, Transcash or any other untraceable payment methods: run away! Whatever reason, and even if they ask you to hide the code (which, by the way, does not stop them from stealing your money), this is just not how renting a flat works in France. And this is usually how rental scams will steal your money.  You should also be careful when a landlord sends you a link to a so-called bank website. Check the URL, and never type the confidential number of a Mandatcash on a website.

ID documents are not always reliable

If you are emailing a landlord, and they send you an ID, you should not consider it definitive proof of their reliability. Indeed, they might be impersonating other people they have previously scammed.

An incomplete lease

If a landlord gave you a lease agreement that is vague or incomplete (e.g: mentions are missing), it might allow them to change it or cancel it without
letting you know. When reading the lease, make sure there are no blank spaces, vague writing or incomplete sentences.

The 4 most common rental scams

Most scammers will use the same schemes again and again in order to fool you. We have listed 4 of the most common housing scams. If you ever come across a similar situation, it should ring a bell!

💡 Google is your friend!
An easy way to spot a scam is to copy and paste the text of their listing or their emails on Google. As they use over and over the same messages, they might have already been reported as a scam on an online forum, for example. You can also search their "first+last name+scam" on Google to see what comes up.

Rental scam n°1: the perfect offer

a perfect listing usually is a scam

The property is really cheap, ideally located, has a great surface, the pictures are really nice… Watch out! If it is priced well below the market rate for no apparent reason, it does not sound good at all.

Rental scam n°2: the ghost owner

text messages with a ghost owner that does not want to meet

If a private owner says they are not able or don't want to meet you in person, that is usually not a good sign. You should always be able at least to have a video call with the person listing the property. Moreover, a "real" owner would be willing to meet you digitally or in person, to make sure that you can be trusted as a tenant.

Rental scam n°3: the security deposit

an email asking for a security deposit

The scenario is usually the following : the owner leaves far away, and does not want to get around for nothing, so they ask you for a security deposit, to ensure you will be there for the visit. They will probably ask you to send it via Mandat Cash or any other untraceable payment mean.
First, it is illegal in France to ask for a deposit before signing the lease. Agencies might ask you to pay "booking fees", but no deposit can be required before you have your contract.

Rental scam n°4: the copied listing

listings duplicated from other websites are usually scams

Most scammers are not really smart, and will only copy and paste the text/images of an existing listing. If you come across a suspicious ad, you can copy and paste the text on Google, and if the listing is offered for rent by another landlord on another website, it is most likely a scam.
Same logic goes for the emails you might get from the landlord: you can copy and paste the text on Google and check if it has already been reported as a scam.

What to do if you got scammed?

Unfortunately, as scammers rarely use their real identity and use untraceable methods, it is very likely you will not get your money back. There are still a few things you can do:

  • Report the fraudulent listing on the website where you found it.
  • Report the scam to the authorities on this website : internet-signalement.gouv.fr
  • File a complaint online : pre-plainte-en-ligne.gouv.fr if you are already in France and have not been able to identify the scammer. It is called "plainte contre X".
The best way to avoid scams is still to use trusted, professional websites when looking for accommodation. livin-france.com is the #1 housing platform for international students, with over 10k verified listings.

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