I am sharing this because similar stories posted here about a scam in Iceland and Spain are what kept me from getting scammed. I will be collaborating with someone in Geneva for a couple of months and needed to find a place to stay (well technically, I still need to find a place). A friend who lives in Switzerland suggested that I use this website. On it, I found a listing for an apartment that was cheap compared to most of the other apartments in the area (610 CHF/ month for a one bedroom apartment). The ad was certified as ‘verified’. The ad was in French so I emailed the person in French and here is what they replied:
Thanks for your interest in wanting to be my tenant. My name is Klaudia Wannemaker and I’m 44 years old. I bought this apartment for my son during his studies. Now he is back home in Italy permanently. so I am renting the place for an unlimited time. Before we go any further I would like to know something about you, like how many people intend to live in the apartment, your job, and how old you are. The apartment is fully furnished but if you need it unfurnished, you can move the furniture into storage. The rent is CHF 610 per month and includes all utilities listed below:
• High Speed Internet
• Utilities (water/gas/electricity/heating)
• TV Cable
• Parking Spot
The lease is flexible, can be month to month, with a minimum stay of one month to a maximum of 8 or 9 years. The price will not increase monthly, it will remain the same for the whole period that the contract states. About pets: there are no problems if you have pets, as long as you clean up after them. The only inconvenience is that my job doesn’t allow me to leave Warsaw even for one single day. We just hired some new staff and I’m in charge of their training. But this won’t affect you at all. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
To me, it seemed legit although I found it odd that she was replying in English, and her not being around to show me the apartment came across as an immediate red flag. I continued emailing her because I was not sure yet. Also, I had already told her everything she had asked about me, and I had told her I was looking for a short-term lease. In retrospect, this was obviously an automated response, but what can I say? I was still young and hopeful then. Here is the next email I received:
Thanks for your reply. You seem to be a very nice person and I can assure you we will not have any problems. The apartment has been kept up properly and had a professional, top-to-bottom cleaning. Like I have informed you, the price you shall pay for one month’s rent will be CHF 610 and I also want a security deposit of CHF 1000 (which you will receive back at the end of the contract), with no extra taxes. As for the rent, I want to receive it monthly in my bank account, so I hope it will be no problem for you to wire the money. The apartment is ready for you; all you have to do is to check it and see if you like it. I’ve found a way for us to complete the deal safely and fast so you can check the apartment in less than three days. Nobody can help me show you the apartment because I don’t know the neighbors very well. The solution I’ve chosen is provided by Airbnb. They handle rentals for people who are unable to solve them alone, which are abroad, so they will take care of both the inspection and payment. If you are interested so please email me, and I will send the link with my apartment listed on Airbnb.
She did not answer any of the questions I had asked again (e.g. how far the place was from the University, etc.) and it just seemed more and more suspicious. Here is what I replied:
Hi Klaudia. Thank you for getting back to me. I’m really excited about the apartment, however, I am not comfortable wiring money for a place I cannot see in person. Indeed, I am in the United States and will not be able to come to Geneva until May. I’d love to Skype with you to discuss a solution, or send a member of my family to look at it (I have a cousin who works in Geneva). Please let me know if that would work. I am also invested in seeing the Airbnb listing for the apartment if that is possible! Thank you!
Her “reassuring” answer:
I want to take this opportunity to assure you that there is nothing to be worried about this rental. You can see on my announcement that I have positive feedback with Airbnb and they verified my personal ID. I will try explain to you step by step how this will work. Take a few moments and read my email carefully. First you must reserve the apartment and after you’ve made the booking, you must complete the payment. In 2-3 days after your payment confirmation the agent from Airbnb will come to show you the apartment and give you the contract. The contract is signed by me and you can choose to rent my apartment for a long or short term period. The monthly rent will be the same for whole period. Once you have inspected the apartment you have two options:
Option 1: You will take the apartment and sign the contract for a long or short term period.
Option 2: I don’t think you will use this option, but you’ll tell the agent that you don’t want to rent my apartment and Airbnb will refund you the money in 48 hours. End of the deal. I’ve chosen Airbnb because they offer guarantees for both of us. I will get paid only after you confirm that you will rent my apartment. I need your full name and a mobile number so I can send you the link to my announcement. Let me know if this is acceptable.
At this point, I knew it was all fake and I sure wasn’t going to wire her any money months before I even arrived in Geneva. I was curious to see what kind of Airbnb listing she would show me though, so I gave her my full name and phone number (that had been included in my email signature all along). Here was her final reply:
Hello. Here you have the link:
(NOTE FROM AIRBNB HELL: because this is a scam Airbnb site, we would advise against following this link, but thought our readers should be aware of the address).
To rent the apartment immediately please select the period for one month and click the ” Instant Booking ” button in the listing. On the next page review your purchase information. After you complete the Airbnb steps, they will send you an invoice with the payment details and the confirmation. The funds must be transferred to Airbnb. Thank you.
If you look closely at the URL, you can tell how it is fake. The ‘-online-booking-eu’ part gives it away. That is not the official Airbnb website although it looks just like it. It indeed said that she was a verified hostess: there was a picture of her, and comments of fake previous tenants. When I went on the real Airbnb website I of course could not find her apartment. Oh and about twelve hours after she sent this she emailed me again, pressing me to make the payment and let her know when I have done so because ‘she needed to know ASAP’. You can imagine how colorful my response was. Anyways, after I was done having fun, I reported her to Airbnb and Wgzimmer. Now I am writing this fun post to spread the word as this is apparently a fairly common scam.