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How to spot student housing scams

Student housing
Student housing scammers prey on unsuspecting students. Source: Chuttersna/Unsplash

Finding decent and affordable student housing can be a major source of stress for international students.

Depending on where you’re studying, there may be a shortage of student housing options. Other concerns could include finding reputable resources when obtaining student housing information, especially when you may not have experience in finding your own place or be familiar with the area you plan to move into.

With reports of student housing scams growing in frequency, what can you, as an international student, do to ensure you don’t fall victim to these elaborate cons? 

Here are some general guidelines that may come in handy:

Research, research, research

Doing thorough research online can help you avoid falling prey to a student housing scam. Source: Shutterstock

A lot of things can look legitimate on the internet. Some housing scammers may copy and paste information and images from other websites, so it helps to trawl through other platforms to see if similar ads have already appeared but with a different price and contact information. 

Simple steps such as conducting a Google reverse image search can help you figure out whether the images have been downloaded from another website and reused to create a fake room or house for rent ad. Other things you could do include Googling the address to ensure it exists. 

Units with below the market prices

So you’ve stumbled upon legit-looking student accommodation online or on social media, with images as well as all the necessary details. While the unit looks decent, it’s the price that’s hooking you in – it’s the cheapest you’ve come across so far. 

But when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ensure you have a chance to view the unit and seek advice from your university’s housing advisor before paying a deposit to ensure the unit isn’t a dud. 

Request for payment upfront before you see the unit

As a general guideline, it’s always ideal to meet the owner or landlord before making any payment. Source: Shutterstock

Scammers may use another person’s property and falsely advertise it as their own to unsuspecting students. If they’re pushing you to make a deposit or upfront payment quickly, especially without a legal contract in place and before you’ve had a chance to meet them in person or view the unit, be cautious. 

Being asked to transfer money via money transfer services such as Western Union is also a red flag as the money often can’t be traced once you’ve made a payment. 

This brings us to our next point… 

Meet the unit’s owner

Realistically, you can still get scammed even after meeting the unit’s supposed owner or landlord.  But it’s still better to meet them in person and get their full name to help you gauge them. 

There are instances where scammers give fake names and identities to potential tenants, so it helps to ask questions about them and look them up online if you can. 

In some instances, we intuitively don’t trust a person upon meeting them. While intuition can’t be explained by fact or logic, some still believe in following their gut. Whether or not you choose to do so is completely up to you, but it’s worth keeping in mind, regardless.      

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