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EXPLAINED: Five common apartment scams in Austria

Moving to Austria or thinking of changing apartments? Here are some common rental scams to watch out for.

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

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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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Vienna legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge, or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Vienna.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Vienna legally

If you find yourself with a large piece of furniture or big household appliance that has seen its prime and is not bound to the trashcan, then you might be wondering where to dispose of them – legally, that is.

Even if it is not uncommon to see furniture or appliances next to the big trashcans often placed near households and apartment complexes, it is illegal to leave them there.

Different cities have different methods – some will even pick up trash at specific times and places. To know how your city deals with bulky waste (Sperrmüll), you can google “Sperrmüll + the name of your city”.

READ ALSO: Why does Vienna’s waste department have a helicopter and a military plane?

Vienna has several waste collection points where you can leave bulky waste, electrical appliances, hazardous waste (in household quantities) and other old goods for no charge.

The use of the Wiener Mistplätze is subject to certain quantity limits and requirements, but they are to avoid industrial use. Therefore, most households will have no problem with the limitations.

Here you can find several collection points in Vienna.

It is worth pointing out that delivery to those sites can only be made by cars with Viennese license plates, on foot or by bicycle. Furthermore, no trailers or company cars are allowed to leave trash at these collection points.

What can you bring to the collection centres?

This is the place to bring large sheets of plastic foil, bulky or large metal parts and electrical appliances, for example.

Additionally, you can bring small amounts of bulky waste, wood, styrofoam, large cardboard boxes, green waste and used tires to any waste collection centres.

Depending on what you are disposing of, you might need to go to the Rinter centre, one of the larger ones.

READ ALSO: Hasta la mista, baby? How to vote for your favourite Vienna trash can joke

The centres also have a separate division where it is possible to donate old items still in good condition, the so-called 48er-Tandler-Box.

Tableware, small furniture, electrical appliances, clothes, toys and other items can be reused and bought at a low price at the 48er-Tandler reuse shop.

Most centres are open only from Monday to Friday during business hours, but others are also available on Saturdays.

What to do if I don’t have a car?

If you don’t need a car but still need to dispose of a large appliance, the Viennese solution varies.

Some will take public transport with a couple of friends trying to help them carry an old sofa via the u-bahn, although that can get a little tough at peak hour. 

Alternatively, you can borrow or rent a vehicle to try and save costs.

READ ALSO: The downsides of Vienna you should be aware of before moving there

But Vienna City also has a service that will pick up the trash for a low fee – even if it is located in the attic, a basement or a courtyard.

It’s the Entrümpelungsdienst und Sperrmüllabfuhr der MA 48. You can also ask for the “dump service” when the city of Vienna brings a trough (the smallest can fit 12 cubic meters).

Once you fill it up, they will remove it and take it to the appropriate place.

Costs will depend on the amount of trash, the size of the appliance, and where in the household it is located.

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