Renting For Members

How I almost fell for a rental scam in Switzerland and what I did about it

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
How I almost fell for a rental scam in Switzerland and what I did about it
We would never receive the keys after paying. Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

Scams, including housing and rental ones, are becoming more widespread in Switzerland. And it is not only the gullible people who fall into the trap — sometimes (supposedly savvy) journalists do too, writes Helena Bachmann.

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On September 19th, I wrote this article about the most common scams in Switzerland, including one related to housing:

The common scams foreigners in Switzerland need to be aware of

This is what the article says:
"Housing scams consist of posting an advert on various specialised websites.

It offers accommodation in a great location at a reasonable price. Beautiful photos show a high-end accommodation and lure the victim.

At the time of worsening housing shortage and high rents, this kind of offer sounds very enticing.

During the first contact with the alleged owner or official representative, this person explains that the accommodation is unoccupied and available immediately, but that it is impossible for them to be present due to a business trip.

However, this person requests by return email a copy of identity documents, income certificates, as well as other personal information.

Subsequently, this person asks for a payment via a money transfer company (in most cases, Western Union), assuring that upon receipt of funds, they will send the keys to the accommodation in question.

Of course, the keys will never be sent, because the property in question doesn’t exist. But it could also be a real property which is for sale or rent for a much higher price, and whose images have been stolen."

So how is it possible that only a few days later I did not heed my own advice and fell into a housing scam trap myself?

The back story

In April 2022, soon after the war in Ukraine erupted and many people fled to western Europe, we took in two refugees, a brother and a sister. Let’s call her Natalya.

A year later, this young woman decided, for organisational reasons, to move into her own dwellings. I have been helping her to find new accommodation, but given the general shortage of apartments in many areas of the country (including in this canton, Vaud), the process has been long and frustrating.

Then, about a week or so ago, someone answered an ad we placed on social media, proposing a studio miraculously located in the same community and for a miraculously reasonable rent. Beautiful photos were attached

Yes, it did sound too good to be true, but hey, miracles do happen, right?

Not really, as it turned out.


First red light: outright payment

The initial email correspondence between the alleged owner and myself (on behalf of Natalya) was cordial and pleasant.

The prospective landlady explained that her husband got a job in France, so they had to move and rent out the studio in our town in Vaud.

When I asked when we could see it, she said first we had to pay a security deposit and two months’ rent — BEFORE visiting the studio. The money had to be sent, in euros, to a bank account in France.

I nevertheless insisted on having a rental contract first. This was sent over the next day.

Even though the lease had a huge Swiss flag on top, it was clear the contract was based on French laws. It included a lot of references to article this and article that, but upon googling them, I realised they were not applicable in Switzerland at all.

It was clear the alleged landlady got this ‘document’ from the internet, grammar and spelling errors included.


Additionally, the names and addresses of the landlord indicated on this pseudo contract were all in France, and fake. How did I know this? Her ‘husband’s’ name was the same as a French politician’s, which she obviously also got off the internet.

When I asked her to provide Swiss contacts, she listed an address in Geneva, which was the same as a beauty salon, and a non-existent phone number (I checked).

All the while she didn't want her 'agent' to show us the studio (the 'agent's' name also turned out to be fake).

It is clear this person didn't expect me to check every detail.

By that time it was obvious it was a scam. I didn’t tell this woman about my suspicions because I didn’t want to scare her off into changing her identity and disappearing from the internet, because my plan was to file a complaint.

I did ask her, however, just to see how she would react, to correct the Swiss phone number on the lease.

In response she got nasty, accusing me of trying to get out of the contract and “complicating everything.”

She then said her husband decided not to rent to Natalya because we were not reliable.


What happened next?

On Friday I went to our local police station to file a complaint.

They said they would transfer it to the police in the French municipality indicated on the bank account.

The name on the bank account was different from the one she used on email and rental contract, but at least it’s a clue.

What happens next I can’t say, but I hope I stopped a scammer from ever perpetrating her fraud again, though I doubt it.


Had I paid the money upfront, this would have been the end — the woman would block me, change her identity, and try to ‘re-rent’ the apartment.

And it is highly doubtful that anyone would show up to hand Natalya the key to this studio.


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Johnny 2023/11/18 22:19
I experienced a similar situation. However, the room was advertised on a fraudulent website mimicking Despite my background in computing, I was deceived into believing the site was legitimate. Exercise caution with apartments listed on sites that appear to be '' but are, in fact, imitations.

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