How to avoid scams when looking for an apartment in Switzerland
Finding rental apartments in Switzerland is already tough, let alone with all the housing scams that you can find online. Maybe you're starting a new job or coming to study in Switzerland, or maybe something else completely.
But don’t forget: some things are simply too good to be true, and not everyone out there genuinely wants to help you out.
Five ways to avoid housing scams in Switzerland
Here are some ways to avoid getting scammed when you are searching for a place in Switzerland.
1. Never sign a rental contract before viewing the property
Never let the supposed landlord pressure you into signing a rental contract before you have been allowed to view the property in person and have met the landlord. Often scammers will tell you that you need to sign now; otherwise the place will go to one of the many other people who are interested. Ask for some time to think things over and read the contract the landlord wants you to sign very carefully.
Once you have signed the rental contract, you are legally bound to it. So, make sure you prevent unpleasant surprises: view the place, meet the landlord and read the contract carefully before taking things any further. You can always contact a lawyer in Switzerland to check everything over if you are unsure.
2. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!
Imagine you’ve found the perfect place in the centre of Zurich: an apartment shared between you and one other person, with a private bathroom and gigantic living room for just 300 Swiss francs a month. For some this may seem like a lot of rent and thus only fair that you get so many facilities in return.
Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but for such an apartment in Zurich you can expect to pay much, much more. House prices in many Swiss cities are at record highs. This is a case of “too good to be true” and most definitely a scam.
It’s not that you won’t find affordable accommodation; it’s just that for such a low price, you will most likely have to compromise on many of your points on your “dream accommodation” list.
So, if the accommodation advert you are looking at lists a price that is low for its location and size, or the pictures look like they have been taken of a hotel room, be on your guard! If you are not sure what price to expect, you can always check the costs of similar places in the neighbourhood.
3. Don’t trust a copy of a passport and don’t send yours
If your potential new landlord is “not able” to meet you – excuses often range from family emergencies to being on holiday, then you might be tempted to ask for a copy of their passport to prove who they are. A passport is definite proof of their identity right? Wrong! That passport is probably stolen or fake - just one more trick to get you to send your money to them.
Speaking of passports, never send yours! Some “landlords” will ask you to send them a great deal of personal information and documents, such as a wage slip, work contract and copy of your passport. With these documents, the scammer can commit identity fraud and get you in a lot of trouble.
4. If they can’t prove they are the owner, they probably aren’t
If you’re still feeling uncertain about your landlord’s claim to the house, you can always ask for documents proving their ownership of the house. If they say that these documents got lost, then this should certainly be a glaring red flag!
Asking who the owner is and whether you can speak to them and see their ownership documents is a good idea, even if you only ask to see how they react. Another sign that the “landlord” in question may be a scammer, aside from the fact that they won’t agree to meet with you, is that they won’t talk to you on the phone. The most obvious reason? They are not who they say they are.
At the end of the day, if you have any doubt whatsoever, DON’T send money to the person you are speaking to!
5. Don’t pay a deposit to “secure” the house
Never let potential landlords pressure you into paying a rental deposit before you have seen the house and have met the landlord. And be especially wary if the landlord asks you to pay them via international money transfers such as Western Union or MoneyGram. In these cases, you can be almost certain your money is not going to end up where you expected and it is likely that you will never hear from the “landlord” again after your money has left your bank account.
For some scammers, receiving your deposit won’t be enough. Some are greedy, and even though they have received your money, they will try and play you a little longer by saying they have not received your money and you should send the deposit again and if they receive the first amount you sent, you can just use the second amount to pay the first month’s rent.
If you transfer the money via the online banking service from your bank account using an IBAN number, there is nothing the bank can do to get your money back – by transferring the money, you basically give consent and can’t change your mind later. That being said, don’t pay in cash, as this is extremely hard to trace.
Good luck with your housing search!
Having had first-hand experience of being scammed, this IamExpat editor wishes she’d known these tips before getting ripped off. If you have been the victim of a scam, report it to the police as soon as possible. This way you may prevent others from falling prey to the same scam. Don’t forget: if it's too good to be true, it probably is!
This article originally appeared on IamExpat in the Netherlands.