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EXPLAINED: Five common apartment scams in Austria

EXPLAINED: Five common apartment scams in Austria
From Vienna to the countryside, rental scams are unfortunately common in Austria. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash
Moving to Austria or thinking of changing apartments? Here are some common rental scams to watch out for.

While Austria’s clean streets and punctual public transport attests to its law-abiding nature, it still pays to have your wits about you. 

New arrivals in particular need to be aware of some of the most common scams that you might face when moving here. 

Although many of these will be shrugged off by long-time Austria residents who know how to spot a scam a mile away, these tricks – which can cost thousands of euros as well as time and emotional stress – are often targeted at vulnerable people such as new arrivals. 

One thing to remember is that even reputable platforms such as Airbnb and WGGesucht are popular with scammers, so don’t just assume you are safe if you use a well-known platform. 

If you are on Airbnb, for instance, make sure money is paid to Airbnb and communication takes place via Airbnb itself, rather than paying someone off the record or conducting chats via email. 

Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list, but whenever you’re looking for a flat, house or commercial premises in Austria, remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

The ‘key is in the post’

So this is probably the most common scam seen in Austria, but it still manages to catch people unawares. 

The ruse usually goes like this. You find an apartment on an online platform which seems to check all your boxes and is available. 

For some reason, the landlord can’t show you around – but promises to send you the keys once you transfer the bond, first few months of rent or some other form of security deposit. 

Traditionally, these apartments have seemed like a really great deal – excellent location, great cost, fabulous amenities – and have been accompanied by a number of pictures showing off how great the flat is. 

Recently however, scammers have become more aware of trying not to make something look too good to be true, so the apartments have been merely good rather than great deals. 

A high-rise apartment block in Vienna. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

In addition to a number of high-resolution pictures, you’ll often see official documents, such as a copy of the lease (which few legitimate real estate agents would post online) or a detailed outline of the floor plan. 

You might also get official ID documents sent to you via email, although these are usually stolen or forged, but give the impression that the deal is legit. 

This scam has many incarnations and in almost every case it is indeed a scam. No responsible landlord would send keys in the post without having met you or inspected your documents. 

In fact, in many cases the ID documents sent to the scammers then become used by the scammers as evidence of their own identity, which means you could have sensitive ID information spread all over the web (see below: the data miner). 

If in doubt, just make sure you don’t do anything by mail. If you are organising a flat from abroad, seek the services of a reputable agent or intermediary. 

READ MORE: How to avoid rental scams in Austria

The ‘multiple tenants to the same apartment’

This is similar to that above, but is a more sophisticated version which might involve you actually inspecting the property. 

The multiple tenants scam works by someone showing you around an empty apartment, before simultaneously accepting several bids – and deposits and advanced rent. 

This made headlines recently, with one scammer managing to defraud dozens of people to the tune of €600,000 in deposits, commission and advanced rent payments.

According to reports, Nikola B. posed as a business man and rented out several apartments in the building, claiming they were for staff. 

The apartments were then advertised on social media and sub-let to new tenants (without informing the landlord). 

READ MORE: The words you need to know before renting a flat in Austria

When the landlord didn’t receive any rent for the additional apartments, the alarm was raised. But it was too late for the cheated tenants who had already paid deposits and rent. 

This has left many victims with nowhere to live and, in some cases, no money left to secure a new home. Some of the people impacted had even paid one year of rent in advance.

Fortunately, such a scam is rare – as it requires someone to have access to the property. It also can’t be repeated as once the scam is found out, the true owner of the flat will be identified. 

While this scam might be a little harder to avoid than that above, remember not to exchange money before receiving keys to the flat. 

Norbert Kessler, Team Leader at Mieterhilfe, offered some advice to international residents in Austria searching for a home to rent.

First and foremost, make sure a property is legitimately available before signing anything and handing over cash.

READ MORE: Is it better to buy or to rent property in Austria?

He told The Local: “Unfortunately, apartment scammers often present themselves very convincingly and inventively in order to feign their right of disposal over the offered apartment.

“Hands off or take extreme caution if payments are demanded before viewing the apartment and before signing the rental contract.”

If you are unsure, do a little research into the rental agency to see if they are legit. 

The ‘let me show you around’

Another common scam – and one that is becoming more common in areas with high demand for apartments – is being asked to pay a fee to view an apartment. 

This used to be the purview of only the shiftiest real estate agent, but it is becoming unfortunately more common due to growing demand. 

Visiting a flat – no matter how luxurious it is – should be free. Some might ask for a juicy kickback to let you jump the queue in showing you the flat, while others might say there is a standard fee. 

While not technically illegal in every case, it’s at least highly immoral – and in most cases the landlord won’t know about it. 

Either way, it’ll give you a bit of an insight into the type of real estate agent you’ve got – which is why paying any such fee is best avoided. 

The ‘data miner’

Sometimes an apartment scam isn’t really an apartment scam at all, but some other form of crafty scheme. 

One of the most common versions is the data mining scam, which presents itself as apartment scam but there’s no apartment at all. 

This one works similar to those above in that you see pictures of an apartment and are then asked to provide personal information as part of the application process. 

The data miner scam can be incredibly effective, primarily because while people might be watching out for giving money without receiving keys, they might be less careful of providing their personal information. 

While information like passport details or name and address can be valuable to scammers, so too can credit card details and bank account numbers. 

With a selection of this data, a person can pretend to be you online and steal more money than one months rent ever could be. 

The best tip is to be careful and only provide a bare minimum of data until you actually sign the contract. 

Keep your wits about you and if you smell a rat, the deal is probably fishy. 

The ‘I’m overseas right now’

One common element in many apartment scams is that the landlord or rental agent is overseas at this time. 

There are several different explanations for this. Some involve the landlord being such a shrewd businessman that they’re too busy sealing deals overseas than visiting the property their leasing out to someone they’ve never met. 

Another version is the older parent or grandparent who lives abroad but has bought an apartment for their son or daughter who is currently not living there. 

While overseas bank accounts, dead links, non-functioning telephone numbers and poor English or German in communication are red flags, the ‘I’m overseas right now’ scam is a way of explaining these red flags. 

READ MORE: Ten tips for finding an apartment in Austria

Either way, there’s very little reason a legitimate landlord would be overseas, so this is a scam. 

Keep in mind that tricksters are by their nature very tricky – and will keep inventing new scams or variations on those above. 

One recent scam which has been reported regularly in Vienna involves several layers and can also include stolen property, so the limit is really only their imagination. 

If you’re unsure, it’s best not to go ahead. Read our summary on avoiding scams for more information. 

As with all of our advice pieces, they are intended as a guide only. We receive no juicy kickbacks or advertising money of any kind for this article, so if you need additional assistance contact a reputable broker, government department or legal representative for help. 


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