Recently, when hunting for summer housing in Switzerland, the strangest thing happened. I don’t completely grasp the logistics of the operation, but I may have accidentally unearthed an institution!
It started with an apartment, a perfect space to live the life I’ve always dreamed – only appropriate when about to undergo the opportunity of a lifetime; perfect job, amazing guy, beautiful city, and a romantic European chateau manifested as if on command.
“I am so happy to let you know that the apartment is still very much available for rent. Here are some important information about the apartment. The apartment is located at Rue Liotard 35, 1202 Genève, Switzerland and it just about 1.2km distance to its metro station, the apartment spacious is about 80sqm and a room is about 30sqm, restaurant and public transport all around and it’s few mins walking distance to the supermarket, so it’s located in a very nice and safe area in Genève.”
The aspiring leasee was named Raymond Muller, a supposed Belgian living in the UK. Running the online street view appeared to validate a central, desirable, location. The rent was cheap, very cheap actually, and all amenities were included.
But something seemed off: he appeared ready to place instant trust in me, with only minimal information.
“Also, I would like to put my trust in you.”
Some digging into “Raymond Muller,” fetched a loud surprise. The same listing for the dream apartment came up several times. It always targeted housing seekers in prominent European cities, and finally, appeared in an entry on scamwarners.com.
In the short duration of my posting, I received offers from several people living in the United Kingdom who just so happened to have an amazing flat in downtown Geneva they were ok with letting entirely unvested foreigners sublet.
While I cannot to speak to the origins of any another poster, Scam Warners informed me that ‘Raymond’ was actually based in Lagos, Nigeria. In general, this type of scammer preys on free listing sights such as Craigslist or Gumtree.
One key reveal,”Muller” attempted with me, is the phone trick called the +4470 switch. By listing the UK country code, followed by 70, they signify ownership by remote British companies who provide anonymous call forwarding services. Described as a “gift” to the scam artists, numbers beginning with +4470 are almost always located outside the UK.
It usually works with the scammer asking their victims to provide proof that they are not a “timewaster,” by making a money transfer through an anonymous service such as Western Union or Money Gram, where the funds can be picked up anonymously anywhere in the world. In some cases, the scammer doesn’t ask for direct payment, and instead has the hopeful sublettor transfer funds to a trusted friend or relative. They ask for the receipt of the transaction to prove they have the available funds, promising to courier the keys to the victim’s present address.
Sounds pretty safe, right?
Wrong. Using the receipt, the scammer can then go to any money transfer location with a fake ID of the recipient listed on the receipt and take the funds. Untraceable.
Did I actually fall Raymond Muller’s housing scam? Fortunately not, but many others haven’t been so lucky. In fact, after receiving the first message I used only fictitious information about myself in subsequent correspondence, until I felt I had enough to report the scam for what it was.
‘Raymond Muller’ hadn’t made an appearance for a few years, but he’s back, and I’m glad to know any future searches on his name will reveal him as exactly what he is.☼