Police have had an increasing number of complaints. The typical approach of the fraudsters is to list an apartment that doesn’t belong to them, and ask people interested in it for prepayments and deposits.
The fraudsters are mainly active on real estate portals like City24.ee, KV.ee, and even Airbnb.com, ERR’s Aktuaalne kaamera reported on Tuesday evening. According to the Police and Border Guard (PPA), the number of reports this season has been higher than usual.
Hannes Keld of the North police prefecture told ERR that the most common approach was to lift information about random objects off the Internet, list a fictitious property, and then wait for people to show interest. Some also listed properties that didn’t belong to them without the knowledge or permission of the owner.
Once the deposit or prepayment is made, the fraudster disappears, and the people looking to rent a place lose their money.
“This year people have reported losses of a few hundred euros to a little over €4,000,” Kelt said. “Among them some who reacted to listings of Estonian properties. The bigger losses are connected to real estate for sale abroad.”
According to director of KV.ee, Tarvo Teslon, fraudsters typically upload fake listings the data and images for which they get from other portals. A popular approach is to advertise comparably low rents to get people to react. The fraudsters usually asked for two or three months’ rent.
Airbnb.com is popular as a resource for fraudsters of material they can use to put together fake listings. At the same time, cheating people out of supposed booking fees is a practice that on Airbnb.com is happening through unofficial payment channels.
According to owner of Tallinn City Apartments, Mihkel Randrüüt, transactions outside the platform’s own reservation system are dangerous. If the owner of a listing wants payments to take place outside Airbnb.com’s credit card based system, customers should get suspicious.
Booking platforms like Airbnb.com, Booking.com, Expedia.com were safer. “The transaction should certainly be carried out there, because this way these websites are responsible as well,” Randrüüt said.
A simple search on the Internet typically helps to identify the fraudsters, as people often warn others about them on social media or in forums as well. In Estonia data can be checked in the land register as well. According to the police, the most important thing is not to make any payments before there hasn’t been a chance to see the apartment in question.
Editor: Dario Cavegn