Apartment? Check.

After narrowly escaping my first European scam, I was fearful that my apartment search was going to be long and dirty. But it turns out that once again the universe is looking out for me. Well, the universe and a kind woman from the University of Amsterdam.

As you know, I’m taking my cat with me to Amsterdam. And this has been the primary reason I haven’t considered student housing to be an option. They don’t allow animals to live in dorms – that’s fair. Plus, the idea of living amongst a bunch of younger students and potentially sharing a bathroom with them makes me cringe. So when I received the form to fill out a request for student housing, I was hesitant.

I responded to the woman in the admissions and housing office (who incidentally is the same woman who helped me determine my dream apartment was a scam), asking if my cat would make me ineligible for student housing altogether. She responded in a kind, but not so hopeful way. Since the vast majority of student residences don’t allow animals, there would only be a slim chance I would find a place through the standard channels. But since she was familiar with other housing agencies (outside of the University’s primary network), she told me she would speak to some colleagues and see what she could find for me. In the meantime, she told me to fill out the housing form just to cover all of my bases.

UvA Confirmation (or Fulbright?)

I filled out the form, which was hosted on the same platform as the U.S. Fulbright application. That has no bearing on the rest of the story. I just thought it was strange that the applications looked so similar.

Anyway, the form asked for my preferences in rent and roommates. I said high rent and no roommate, hoping to end up with the classiest room they have in the pot. Pressed submit and knew it wouldn’t lead to anything.

A day or two later, my University friend asked if I would be interested in a two-room apartment on the east side of town. It would be in an old building – but “liveable.” It wasn’t a guarantee. But she might be able to get it for me if I was interested. Because I am a woman with standards, I asked a couple of questions before saying, “hell fucking yeah!” First of all, would this be a private room? And second, would I have to share a bathroom and/or kitchen? Her answers were “yes” and “no,” respectively. So I said, “hell fucking yeah!!”

Another day or two later my new best friend came back with confirmation that she was able to get me the two-room apartment. She included the address, which was followed by the initials HS. To explain, she added my favorite part of her email: “HS means that your apartment is on the ground floor so your cat has a little garden to play in.” I immediately wrote her back to accept the place.

Although I haven’t seen how this place looks on the inside, I imagine it’s pretty basic and not at all resembling my future dream home. What I do know is that it has a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, and garden. I also know that the rent is cheap and that it’s not a scam. I’ll live there for a semester, which should give me plenty of time to figure out where I’ll live next. I think it’s an ideal scenario.

And thanks to modern, Google technology, I am at least able to see the place from the street. It has a red door.  That alone makes me very happy.

my future red door

UPDATE: a Scam Is Just a Scam

Thanks to all who provided input on the scam question.  The consensus is that it was a scam.  Although just barely, I’m pleased to say I avoided some major heartbreak here.

 

This morning I sent an email to the University, asking for advice on the situation.  I sent the address, the rent, the passport and the “proof of ownership” certificate.  Here’s the response:

I had a look at the attachments and googled the address, and I get the feeling that this deal is kind of dodgy. The whole house seems to be for sale: http://www.huislijn.nl/koopwoning/amsterdam/eerste-constantijn-huygensstraat_109_f47d00a6-cca0-4f8b-91a3-e043c617f078/overzicht.html and this website also tells us that the top 3 floors are rented at the moment but it doesn’t say if this situation will continue. And the proof of ownership looks very fake to me, but I could be wrong.

Mmhm.   I don’t think you’re wrong, Renee.  I don’t think you’re wrong at all.

 

Immediately after receiving this message from Amsterdam, I received this link from a friend (thanks MYC!):

http://santacruzhomebroker.com/santa-cruz-real-estate-blog/2009/01/

It provides almost an exact replica of the “proof of ownership” I received from my scammer.

 

And finally, I took a look at the advice on scams provided by Craigslist (not sure why I didn’t do this before).  One particular bullet point stood out from the rest:

3. Someone requests wire service payment via Western Union or MoneyGram:

  • Scam “bait” items include apartments, laptops, TVs, cell phones, tickets, and other high value items
  • Often claim that an MTCN or confirmation code is needed before he can withdraw your money – this is FALSE, once you’ve wired money, it is GONE.
  • Common countries currently include: Nigeria, Romania, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Spain, Italy, Netherlands – but could be anywhere
  • Apartment listing may be local, but landlord/owner is “travelling” or “relocating” and needs you to wire money to them abroad
  • Deal often seems too good to be true, price is too low, rent is below market, etc

 

So there you have it.  I feel like I just escaped an attacker.  Dirty, hurt, and unable to trust strangers.  But I’ll get back out there.  I still have to find myself a place to live.

A Scam Is Not a Scam Is a Scam

Last week I upgraded my apartment hunting from investigative research to active outreach. And already the scammers have spotted my optimistic innocence. Fortunately, I’m still jaded enough to see reality behind rainbows. Or maybe I’m just too jaded to appreciate the beauty of a rainbow. Honestly, I don’t know what’s what anymore.

Only a few rentals and sublets have begun advertising January availability. So as I comb through November and December move-in dates, my options are still limited. But scattered throughout the various sites are rentals for 2011. Beginning with craigslist, I started reaching out to several advertisers – mostly short-term, furnished sublets.

I didn’t receive any responses for a few days. But on Friday I finally received a response regarding a 1-bedroom for 600 euros (about $850). The price would be perfect – though surprisingly low. And based on the Google street view, the apartment’s location would be dreamy – around the corner from the park and a bike ride from the University. Based on the pictures, it’s super cute, inside and out.

 

The message I received indicated that the place is still available. She just wanted me to answer a few questions about myself, for fear of renting to another bad tenant. She said she’s working for a US-based shipping company, spending much of her time in Philadelphia. She also said a number of other things. But her English wasn’t clear enough for me to get everything. But I took the Philadelphia connection as a good sign.

I responded with my answers. And she wrote back within the hour. I had given her the impression that I would be a good tenant. Her lawyer (in the UK) also agreed that my application looked good. So they were ready to give me the keys to the apartment. Wait, what?

The deposit will be 600 euros. They want me to send this to the lawyer in order to receive the keys and the papers for the apartment. Nope, nope, nope. That’s shady. I told her I would need to see more information, her lease or proof of ownership, the lease she would want me to sign, proof of her id, her lawyer’s details, a blood sample, and her mother’s cell phone number. No way I’m sending any euros to some strangers from craigslist without some assurances in place.

She immediately came back with a copy of the lease I would sign (with my name already typed in), and scans of her passport (she’s Swedish) and her attorney’s passport (he’s British). Okay, that’s impressive. And with this proof of id, she indicated that as soon as I send the money for the deposit via Western Union, her lawyer would send everything to me. But even though I have scans of passports, how do I know these are real people? These could be fake passports. I’m still not comfortable. And Western Union?

I demanded to see proof that she has a right to rent this apartment. Her lease? The owner’s information? Something. And I refused to send the money via Western Union. It’s just like sending cash. No way. I offered to send a certified check once I was comfortable with the situation. At this point, I was confident that it was a scam. She was clearly trying to trick me and would have had me show up with all of my stuff, holding a mailbox key, trying to open an old couple’s front door. Since I was onto her scam, and coming back so intelligently and sharper than any of her previous victims, I didn’t expect her to respond.

A few hours later, she responded with a kind, though slightly more agitated tone. This time she explained that she owned the apartment with her husband. After his death, it became all hers. She attached the scan of a “Proof of Ownership” certificate, including the full address and official-looking signatures.  So now not only do I have two passports and a certificate, I have a sad story about a young woman’s dead husband. But how do I know this is a real certificate? And the husband could be the part of the story that gets someone like me (with a soft spot for dead people) to get up and go to Western Union. Am I falling into her trap?

I haven’t responded to this last message. I’m kind of out of rebuttals. I can’t think of anything else she could provide that would make me feel better. All the while, I’m wondering if I’m blowing my shot at living in a cute apartment, by myself, in a great location, with an affordable rent. Am I going to regret being so paranoid? Or will I end up 600 euros poorer, hating myself for not trusting my inner skeptic?

I’m sending a message to the University to get some advice. I’m also open to feedback from any of you on this. I’m at a frustrating loss on whether or not to proceed.