Looking for accommodation can be difficult for us, especially when it is somewhere we are unfamiliar with. In this article, I share my accommodation scam experience in hopes of increasing the public’s awareness in this area.
My accommodation hunt began when I received a placement offer (Coop) in Bray, Co. Wicklow. However, the housing crisis in Ireland at the time did not help. About a week before my Coop was going to start, I came across an advertisement on Facebook for a house to rent. I emailed the “landlord” and was informed that they would place an ad on TripAdvisor’s website where I could proceed to book my accommodation there (just like Booking.com or Airbnb). The condition was that I must pay a deposit including the first two months’ rent before viewing the place. If I then decide not to take the place, TripAdvisor would issue a full refund.
Under desperation, I clicked on a link the “landlord” sent me via email which directed me to an ad on TripAdvisor’s website. There, I made a payment of €2,100. However, on the day I was supposed to view the place, I lost contact with the “landlord”. My WhatsApp messages and calls were not going through. I felt uneasy and that was when I realized something was fishy. I made the trip to Bray nonetheless.
Throughout my journey, I felt terrified about going to view the place on my own. What if the area was not safe? What if there were kidnappers at the house? Various bad scenarios started playing in my head. I did not know who to contact but my employer for Coop. Despite such short notice, my employer was so kind as to accompany me to view the place. The moment we arrived, a lady answered the door and said that the place was not for rent. She had been living there for 10 years and I was told that numerous people had knocked on her door looking to rent her house.
I felt lost. My employer suggested that we make a Garda statement immediately. To be honest, I had no hope that the money would return to my bank account. Even the Gardaí said that the odds of getting my money back were slim since I had voluntarily transferred the money into the “landlord’s” bank account instead of them having to hack my account. After investigation, the so-called TripAdvisor’s website turned out to be an ingenuine one albeit looking exactly like it. If I were to be more cautious, I would have noticed that the link the “landlord” sent ended with “.xyz” instead of “.com”. That was a sign and would have given it away.
I am sure we have all heard it a thousand times. But from the above experience, I cannot urge you enough:
1. DO NOT trust links that have been sent to you through emails and verify their source.
Nowadays, we tend to click on links that were sent to us directly for convenience’s sake. However, the smarter way, in this case, would be to use a search engine and look for the ad on Trip Advisor’s website yourself. Besides, many ingenuine websites would have a web address that looks different if you look carefully enough. Hence, we should pay more attention to them.
2. DO NOT pay anything until you have seen your accommodation.
The general practice in Ireland is that landlords would ask tenants to put down a deposit prior to renting their room or house. However, there is no reason to pay any deposit or even the rent if you have not viewed your accommodation. This rule of thumb applies even in cases where you might think that some people or company are reliable enough.
3. Reach out for help when you need it.
Many times the reason we do not reach out for help is that we do not want to trouble others with our problems. But the truth is, some people might be more experienced in dealing with difficult situations than ourselves. Besides, you would be surprised to see that people are more than happy to offer their support. So, never be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
4. Try to ask someone to accompany you when viewing a new place.
Unforeseen circumstances may arise when you view a new place. Hence, it is never a bad idea to have someone accompany you when viewing a new place. Should something happen, they could be there to help you.
5. Report any incident to the Garda immediately.
In any criminal situation, we should always make a report to the Garda instantly. They would have the expertise in this area to carry out an investigation and assist you in the situation.
It is unfortunate to say that there are scammers everywhere and I know that it could be extra difficult especially when you are in a foreign country. In this case, even though Ireland was ranked as the 12th safest country in the world based on the 2020 Global Peace Index, we should never be too cautious.