The price of housing shortage: hundreds of reactions to scammer’s offer

06 May 2021

Last week, hundreds of people reacted to an ad on Facebook for three apartments in Nijmegen. But in vain, because it turned out the apartments didn’t even exist. 'Scammers are trying to cash in on the housing shortage.'

Jonathan Janssen (27) from Nijmegen has to move out of his student room, but he’s finding it really difficult to find a rented house. He is competing with too many others looking for accommodation and there aren’t enough houses to go round. Sometimes he feels really despondent.

Until his mother forwards him a Facebook message. The page Huren met Huurtoeslag has three attractive apartments on offer. Janssen is full of anticipation. The locations are great: Kaaisjouwerskade, Waalbandijk and Molenstraat. The prices unbelievably good. Between 600 and 800 euros, with the option for rent benefits.

At the Facebook page he clicks through to the website with the same name. It looks genuine with an attractive layout and a postal address. In order to respond to a house Janssen must create a premium account for 24.95 euros. He decides to take the gamble and transfers the amount to a German account number via iDeal.

‘It wasn’t long after this that I realised I’d been scammed’, says Janssen now. ‘The e-mail I received after payment didn’t look right and only referred back to the response module. The more I looked at this module on the website, the more suspicious I became.’

Very concerned

Janssen is left with a hole in his wallet and a dent in his pride. ‘Most of all I felt really stupid that I fell for it. You always think: this kind of thing won’t happen to me.’ Nevertheless, he can explain his decision afterwards. ‘Because my mother forwarded me the page, I wasn’t suspicious at first. In addition, finding affordable accommodation is so difficult. There’s pressure on you to seize every opportunity.’ Janssen points to the hundreds of responses under the Facebook message, most of them directed at people looking for somewhere to live. ‘It shows that the demand is so great that people react immediately.’

The fact that scammers thrive in a housing shortage is a theory that is echoed by the Huurbond (Tenants Association). For years now, they have been very concerned that the housing shortage is getting worse. According to researchers, Nijmegen has 5,565 houses too few to meet the current demand. Many starters have great difficulty finding somewhere to live. ‘People wait a really long time for a house and are willing to take a gamble. And the fraudsters know this too. With sites like these they try to cash in on the housing shortage’, says spokesman Marcel Trip.

Damage

Housing fraud is a regular occurrence. According to data from the Fraud Helpdesk, damage worth 185,930 euros was reported last year, although this amount also includes other forms of rental fraud. This figure is probably only the tip of the iceberg: not everyone reports it to this authority. ‘The scammers are smart’, says Janssen. ‘25 euros isn’t enough money for someone to really worry about.’

The photos and texts of Huren met Huurtoeslag are similar to those on other fraudulent housing sites. According to TV programme Opgelicht?! they can be traced back to one person who has been scamming people since 2017. In Nijmegen last year, people looking for rooms were taken in by a website set up by this fraudster.

Janssen raises the question why this man has not been stopped. In a response, a police spokesman stated that the police are unable to investigate specific persons or websites. ‘But I can say that we are aware of fraud involving rental accommodation. We are notified of this fairly regularly. If people suspect that a criminal offence has been committed, they can, of course, always report it. It will then be investigated.’

Janssen has reported what happened, even though he is not very hopeful of ever seeing his money again. By telling his story he wants to prevent other people being ripped off in the same way. ‘It’s a waste of your money and it makes you feel really stupid.’

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