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How to avoid scams abroad

Apr 14, 2021 by Monica Garcia

One unfortunate factor when moving abroad is that some people might try to take advantage of you. Falling victim to scams is something that can happen to anyone. But as an expat, you might be more vulnerable, as you might not know yet how the bureaucracy and the general system of things work. Scams or frauds are increasing online, and it can be harder to notice what is legit and not. Therefore, it can be a good idea to arrive in your new country equipped with a certain amount of healthy skepticism!

melancholic woman by the lake

Housing and apartment scams

Many often start their accommodation search by browsing a few online portals for apartments before moving abroad, hoping to find something ready to move into when they arrive. Although most of the websites have previously verified who is behind the apartment and that the accommodation is in good condition, we always recommend being cautious. You can suggest the owner having a video call so that he or she can show you the apartment or your future room. This is a great way to have a virtual tour of the apartment and meet your future flatmates! :)

However, one rule of thumb is that you should never pay in advance for anything you have not seen in person or without a rental contract signed by both parties unless you get the accommodation from your employer or relocation agent. In general, it is also safer to rent through established realtors. It might be more expensive, but it is a way to ensure your accommodation at the beginning of your adventure. You can also check, in Facebook groups, if people are leaving their apartments and can connect you to their landlords or flatmates. 

Dishonest landlords 

While most of the landlords are honest and do the right thing, there are a few dishonest landlords out there that might not keep their promises and might try to fool you. Some tips to keep in mind are:

  • The agreement regarding the deposit should be clearly stated in your housing contract. Always have good evidence in the way the apartment looked when you moved in (for example, take pictures or record it)
  • Check that all your bills are correct if they are sent to your landlord first. A common scam is that these landlords often say a price much higher than the real one. 

Tips on avoiding housing scams

  • Apartment fully furnished in the city center for a really low rent? It is probably just too good to be true. 
  • Be extra alert: Is the landlord in a hurry or pushing you to quickly sign the lease? Does he or she want you to pay in cash or via a payment service and not directly into a bank account? Can’t this person really prove that she or he is the owner of the apartment? Ask for proof of ID or full contact information, or search for this person on the internet to get extra information about her/him. 
housing scams

Ensure a safe job search

If you apply for a job with Lingocruit, you can be sure the position and the company are proper. In any case, when accepting a job offer, make sure that you read through your contract thoroughly and never sign anything before you know what it all means. You do not have to sign your contract straight away. You are allowed to have some time to go over it in peace before you sign. 

Guidelines for a safe job search

  • Any legitimate company usually has a physical address, its own email domain, an official website, and social media pages. We also recommend checking the recruiter's profile, especially on LinkedIn!
  • Ask for references: there are pages like Glassdoor where you can find reviews written by those who have previously worked in the company. You can also ask for the references yourself to the recruiter during your interview. 
  • Never pay for work! Services that require upfront fees and offer unrealistic promises are most likely a scam. Moreover, job descriptions with lots of grammar or spelling mistakes are often a red flag too. 
  • Always use established job sites, like Workwide or Lingocruit ;)  

Financial scams 

Another important factor for many expats is to apply for a bank account in their new country. While there are many well-known banks worldwide, there are also new digital banks offering more modern solutions. However, make sure you do your research before creating an account.

In some cases, scams can happen after you got your bank account approved. A common scam worldwide is that scammers contact you by email (phishing) or text message (smishing) pretending to be your bank and ask you to update your bank or card details by clicking a link. In reality, this link only takes you to a scam website, where scammers get your personal data. These messages can be very well made and even have the bank's logo and have duplicated their tone of voice. 

If you ever get a message like this one, you should call or visit your bank and ask them if it is a legit request. Never share details or pay anything before you know who is behind that communication. 

Another financial scam that mainly targets expats is cold calls for investment opportunities. These often involve being sold overpriced or non-existent shares, promising you to get quick and easy money. Be wary of unsolicited approaches that offer something too promising. 

Tips on avoiding financial scams

  • Don’t directly trust unsolicited contact. Although your bank might contact you for different reasons, they will never ask you (in any country) for sensitive information over the phone.
  • Avoid using the same password for your online accounts or online banking. 
  • Avoid using public Wifi for any bank transactions or browsing sessions. 
  • Always check the email addresses or telephone numbers on the internet. You might find reviews or websites that support your suspicions. 
man with his phone afraid of scams

Other scams to be aware of

  • Covid-19 and health-related scams: Scam emails are being sent out encouraging expats to provide their new bank details to receive the Covid-19 vaccine or confirm their appointment. This vaccine is free of charge in all EU countries, and the institutions would never ask for this information in an email. 
  • Dating scams: nowadays, it’s very common to meet someone online. Although it is getting easier to detect fake profiles, be aware of some red flags that could indicate that a person is trying to take advantage of you. If your potential date starts to profess strong feelings for you and elaborates a story that involves handing over some money, cut off contact and notify the site about it. 
  • Insurance scams: moving abroad with your car? Be aware of the ghost brokers - scammers claiming to secure you a cheap car insurance policy (that turns out to be a fake one). We recommend searching for authorized insurance providers in your new country. Many insurance providers have a presence around the world, so their names should sound familiar to you. You might also be eligible to modify your current policy, so your insurance is also valid abroad. 

How to avoid scams abroad - Use common sense

As a newcomer, it could be a bit harder to spot a scam.  But in the end, nothing completely differs from your home country! Use common sense in front of suspicious situations. If it's good to be true, it's probably a scam. Think twice, and always double-check, do your research using reliable sources - ask via Facebook groups to other expats, share it with your work colleagues and managers. It's better to be safe than sorry. This way, you will become a difficult target for scammers