Spotting an Online Scammer May Not Be As Easy As You Think: Read This to Learn How to Really Protect Yourself!


Do you think you that it would be easy for you to spot an online scammer?  Have you received every poorly written email in the book trying to get your personal information?  What if it wasn’t so simple to determine that you were being scammed?  Perhaps this scammer is better educated than the usual con artists!  It was bound to happen.  It was inevitable that they’d eventually get smarter.  How can you protect yourself?  Read on to find out about my run-in with a very good con artist from South Africa and how I avoided being scammed.  I must apologize in advance, for this post reads more like a short essay.  It’s lengthy, but it’s important that you have all the information.  For the next week or so I plan to make additional posts to this blog detailing the steps I took to catch this seemingly legitimate landlord. 

The steps I used to investigate him don’t seem to be common knowledge on the web.  I found nothing about these resources on any of the typical scammer sites.  These resources have come together from my own research and testing, so you can be sure that at this time, this is the best, up-to-date way of catching a scammer.  This information will also help you find out immediately if you are being scammed, so that you don’t waste a lot of time conversing back and forth with these idiots.  Good luck and if you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message.  

So we’re on to a new adventure (not necessarily by choice, but we’re making the best of it).  We’ve been in Germany since February, 2011.  I understood that we could be here for up to three months with our entry stamp, but once we were here we started dealing with a branch of immigration who said getting a visa was not a concern at the time (we had left all of our paperwork in Egypt and had to have some friends pick it up and bring it back to the U.S., so it could be mailed to us here).  

We got our paperwork in the mail in November of 2011 and tried for weeks to make a visa appointment, but could not get a hold of the woman we were instructed to deal with.  Tony just went in and they told him that even though he has been here on a medical visa, there was no longer a need for his family to remain here with him.  In order to rectify the situation, we all needed to leave the country for three months, return and re-apply.  They gave us one month to prepare for this.  They tried everything to keep us here, but there was nothing they could do.  They did not penalize us fee-wise like they should have and gave us a full month, rather than five days, to make plans. 

The dilemma is that if Graywyn and I leave ahead of Tony (because his medical visa does not run out until May), our three months begins when we leave.  His wouldn’t begin until he left, so we decided to leave together.  He is not released to travel by his doctors, who were very upset at this news and also tried everything to keep us all here.  His doctor finally signed off on it, but only for him to travel by plane one to two hours (he was not happy about even allowing this).  That meant that we had to pretty much stay within Europe.  

We researched a lot of places and finally decided on Dublin, Ireland.  We’re set to leave on Saturday, March 30th.  I plan to continue to post about Germany, but will also be adding Ireland posts too.  Surprisingly, I sent Tony’s resume/CV off to a lot of restaurants and landed him three interviews within two hours.  So we may be there three months or longer, who knows.  

In searching for short term rentals, I was faced with an array of online scams.  It wasn’t so long ago in Frankfurt that I was faced with the same.  The latest apartment scam (for renters) is to offer an apartment or house in a really nice area for an incredibly low price.  Sometimes ads are copied directly from real ads (including pictures).  Sometimes pictures are just taken from various sites across the net.  

Normally I think of myself as someone who isn’t easily scammed online, but I have to say that I dealt with a new breed of South African scammers over the past couple of weeks.  The scammer I dealt with was completely different than the ones I’ve seen in the past.  His emails were written in perfect English (that made sense), he was not pushy, asked for a very reasonable deposit and did not bless me or tell me he’d mail me the keys after I wired him payment.  

He responded to an ad that I posted on the Dublin Craigslist.  He told me had an apartment in Dublin 2 on Pearse Street for 700 Euros a month, requiring a 400 Euro deposit.  This was precisely in the area we wanted to be in, so I emailed him back and asked him about nearby public transportation, etc.  He promptly responded, giving me a very detailed description of what was within walking distance of the area.  Here was his response: 

Hello Beth,

It is a two bed apartment and the refundable security deposit is EUR400.

Yes three to four months rental is okay.You will pay extra EUR35 for
internet monthly

The apartment is located on Pearse Street, D2 Dublin

Only a 5 minute walk to Trinity College and Dublin Tourism Centre

Grand Canal Dock Dart Station and Heuston Train Station,Connolly Train
Station and The 02 Arena are within few minutes walk

Dublin Castle, National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology and Jameson
Distillery are within short walk.

Dublin airport(DUB) is about 17 minutes drive away

I will look forward to your reply.

Best,

Kelly

 

I emailed him immediately and asked him for a phone number so that I could call him.   A short while later he emailed me that he was traveling at the moment and was heading to the United States to take care of some family matters, but that he would return in a week.  He said he’d give me a call once he arrived in the U.S. in the next day or so.  True to his word, he called our Skype number and left a voicemail message.  Although he called when I asked him to, I missed his call by a few minutes and when I realized he had called, I attempted to return his call (yes, it was a U.S. number), but couldn’t get a hold of him.  I then saw that he emailed me, saying that he was tired from his flight and was going to be getting some sleep, but would try again.  

Keep in mind that we started mailing back and forth around March 1st and over the course of a couple of weeks, we exchanged some 80 emails between the two of us.  I did not hear much from him, but he always answered my messages.  After about a week and a half, he told me that it had taken him a bit longer in the U.S. than he had planned, but that he had returned to London and would be traveling on to Dublin soon.  He also assured me that he would be in Dublin when we got there to get us into the apartment.  

I asked him what we needed to do to secure the apartment and he said he needed a signed lease, which he emailed me (I’m family with leases and he emailed me a Word document, rather than copying and pasting it into the body of the email like so many scammers do; it read as a legal agreement to my eyes), and said that he only required the 400 Euro deposit and that we could take care of the rent when we got there.  He said he wanted me to Western Union him the money.  This, of course, was the first warning bell.

 I told him that I really didn’t want to use Western Union and couldn’t I wire transfer the money directly into his bank account, but he said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that because of identity theft.  I then researched apartment rental scams and found a lot of information about how much landlords are also getting scammed.  At this point, I began searching all of the online scam warning sites, including scanning the lists of known scammer’s names and email addresses.  I could find nothing about him.  In a previous email I asked him if he could tell me more about himself and he told me that the apartment was owned by him and his wife and that they were both Irish/Canadians.  When I researched his name (Kelly Kehoe), I found this to be a somewhat common name for Irish/Canadians.  

The Western Union thing continued to nag at us, but by all online scammer standards, this didn’t fit the profile.  He provided me with his full name and address in the UK, including a UK phone number.  When I continued to argue about our reservations, he pointed out that he needed to bring his identification to collect the money and that he could only collect it in the UK (I was not convinced that this was so).  The next trouble started when we tried to call his UK number.  We could not get it to connect.  He insisted that he was receiving calls just fine.  I never got it to work and he later claimed that he tried to call me, but also could not get through.  

I then began researching Ireland rental scams and found a lot of information about them.  Again, his scam didn’t fit the profile.  I also researched landlord/tenant rights and tried to find information about checking on the legitimacy of a landlord.  I could not find anything.  The only thing I could find was that landlords have to be registered and that all rental properties also need to be registered.  I was able to find a list from December, 2011 of all the properties that were listed as registered rentals in Dublin.  After a couple of hours scanning down the list, which was in no particular order, I found the property address he had given me and everything matched up to what he said.  It was a registered rental property.  That made me feel slightly better, but then I found information about a form that needs to be filled out when a tenant moves in and that a 60 Euro fee has to be paid. 

 I emailed him and asked him about this form.  He told me it was already taken care of and to not worry about it (I even offered to pay for this with the deposit, but he did not rise to the bait).  When then called the police department closest to the rental address and inquired as to whether or not there have been any recent scams for that address.  We were told no and also that there was no way to check on the landlord’s name.  

I then came across a website that can sometimes be used to help identify apartment rental scams.  It’s a free site that allows you to upload photos from the ad into the site.  The photo is then checked to see if it has been listed anywhere else on the Internet.  It doesn’t search the name of the photo, but rather looks for the image itself (look for link below).  I checked all of the photos he gave me after reading an article about a woman nearly falling for a scam in the UK who also used this site and discovered that the photos her scammer had sent her were from a legitimate ad on a different site.  The scammer had even used the same ad description, but had lowered the price (making it nearly irresistible).  

Keep in mind that this site isn’t full proof.  In fact, I also loaded pictures of our own apartment, which had very recently been posted on several ad sites and the site could not find them.  I was successful in finding the picture I use for my blog, Facebook, ETC, but of all the places I have this same photo posted, the site only recognized Gather.  

So, I continued to research and at this point, “Kelly” told me that it was fine if we didn’t want it, he would rent it to somebody else.  It was then that I decided that I needed to do some research on tracking emails.  I learned that it is relatively easy to get the IP address from most email providers; all, but Gmail.  Gmail apparently uses random IP addresses, making it difficult to trace it by looking at the header of the email.  I ultimately did find a better way to track the email and I was successful in discovering that the emails were originating from South Africa (I will explain how I did this below).  It’s a simple process and anyone can do it.  

Now I began researching his UK phone number and once I did, I found that the reason the number wouldn’t work was because it was a forwarded number through a well-known service in the UK and that these numbers are very rarely used legitimately (only for some business purposes, but definitely not personal).  When I looked into the U.S. number he’d called me with, I found similar information.  

Next, we called the police department in Dublin back and we updated them with this new found information for their records, so that if anyone else was smart enough to check on it with them, they would at least have the information.  We gave the officer the name and email address “Kelly” was using, the address of the property he was claiming he was renting and the IP address and location information from the tracker.  I also submitted this information to some of the more popular scammer lists. 

So that’s it.  This one was particularly difficult to crack, but I wanted to share this story with those of you out there (no matter where you are), because it’s important that you know that not all the scams will be easy to spot and some of them will take a great deal of investigation on your part.  The good news is that you can do this for free online if you know what to look for.  The better news is that I’m more than happy and willing to share this information with you.  After reading through this extremely long post, I’ve decided that it would be better to go over each step for tracking down a scammer as a post.  I will work on posting this information throughout the week, so follow me to ensure you get all the information. 

The scammer’s information:

Alias:  Kelly Kehoe

Email: Kelly.kk70@gmail.com

IP Address:  41.206.12.7

Provided UK Address:  83 Larch Crescent, Hayes, Greater London UB4 9EB, UK

Actual Location:  Nigeria

Provided UK Phone:  +447024061786

Provided U.S. Phone:  615-732-4701

Property in Question:  45 Pearse Street, Dublin 2, Ireland

 

Coming Up:  Look for the next post:  TRACKING THE IP ADDRESS OF AN EMAIL SENDER – COMING SOON! 

Moving in Frankfurt, Germany: The Skippy on Cost


We found that SIXT was the cheapest way to go for truck rentals in Frankfurt.

Moving can be a challenge for an expat in Frankfurt am Main.  It can be a problem whether you’re picking up furniture or trying to move an entire household.  One problem many people run into in Frankfurt is the fact that many rely on public transportation, biking and walking as their means of travel.  Many people do not own vehicles and those who do, often drive cars that are smaller and can’t really be used for hauling furniture items.

Finding a place in Germany and furnishing it can be a tricky experience for an expat.  Many expats find themselves in need of a furnished sublet for the first few months (up to one year) that they are in Frankfurt, even if they have a job.  This is because many landlords look upon foreigners (unless they’re EU citizens) as individuals who can leave the country and return home at any time.  If this is the case, it can be very difficult to track the person down if money is owed or they’ve damaged property somehow.

If you’ve searched in the right places (I’ll post a blog on this later), you’ve probably found that there are many free or inexpensive items (in good condition) available in Frankfurt.  The catch is simple: you’ve got to pick them up.  If you’re willing to haul the item and often times, to disassemble it, you can furnish an apartment or room relatively inexpensively.

If you know someone who has a car that can haul some furniture items, you may consider asking them if they would be willing to help you get some furniture.  Keep in mind, that it can take several trips to several different locations to find everything you need.  You will probably need to pay for gas and depending on the person you’re asking, you may have to give them additional money for their time.  You’ll have to work this out with your friend.  If you are on a really tight budget and know the person well, perhaps offer them dinner or lunch.

Many people come to Frankfurt with the idea that finding and furnishing an apartment will be like it is other places.  They are sorely mistaken.  First of all, even if you have the money to pay for a place of your own and you have a full time job here, most landlords will not rent to you right away (again, I’ll post more on this subject in a different post).  Which brings us back to having to sublet (usually furnished) an apartment.

If you find yourself in this situation, the smartest thing you can do is to look for a place to store furniture.  This in itself can be very tricky and you’ll find that commercial storage rental places are extremely expensive and work differently than other places (for example, the United States).  They often won’t have anything reasonable available and tend to rent the storage space to you in a leasing manner (for a year or so) or in many cases, they want to sell you the storage space (some people purchase the storage space and then rent it out monthly).  Basically, this isn’t a popular option for most people.

You will have better luck going one of two routes.  The first option is to find someone who is renting a house or an apartment that has a garage that they don’t need.  You can often rent a garage for around 50 or 60 Euros a month.  This option will take you some research and time to find (again, another post can be dedicated to this subject later on).  The second option is to find someone who has either rented a storage space in their apartment complex or has access to one as part of their apartment.  For example, in the last sublet we lived in, storage units were rented out individually.  All of them were taken, but we were able to rent a storage space from another renter for a two month period.  And if all else fails, ask around.

So let’s say that you’re either moving from one apartment to another or you just need to haul something.  There are people with smaller moving vans that will load and unload items for you for an hourly rate.  A good source for this is EBay Classifieds (go to http://www.ebay.de and choose EBay Classifieds; if you don’t speak German, make sure you’ve installed an automatic translator, like Google Translate, so that you can translate the page).  You’ll find a lot of choices in varying price ranges for furniture pickup and also moving.

If you have a little bit more money to spend, you also have the option of hiring a professional moving company to come in, pack up your place and move you.  You can save a little bit of money by packing everything yourself and having it ready for when they get there.  These companies will also disassemble and reassemble furniture for a fee.  There are websites where you can plug in information about your move in order to receive bids for this service, but we looked into this when we were moving and found it to be too expensive.  Just to give you an idea of what I mean, we said we were moving a 100 square meter apartment and that everything would be packed and ready to go, as well as all furniture disassembled, and the cheapest price we received was for around 600 Euros with tax.

The other way you can move a household or pickup items is to rent a vehicle.  The good news is that Germany makes it very easy for you to rent a car, truck or van, even if you don’t have a license to drive in Germany.  Moving truck rentals vary and everyone told us to use a place called Turtle, and though they were cheaper than Europcar, we had the best luck with SIXT.  We were able to rent a 12’ moving truck for around 80 Euros for 24 hours, including full coverage insurance.  The catch here is that you’ll have to have someone who has the right license drive it.  We were lucky enough to have a friend who still had an older German license, which meant he could drive trucks this big.  Otherwise, you can go with one size smaller and anyone can drive it, including you.  My boyfriend does not have a license at this time, but because he had a license in the U.S. at one time, SIXT provided him a temporary driving permit that allowed him to drive the truck during our rental.

With gas and paid help, we were able to move everything in one day for around 175 Euros total.  If we hadn’t been so rushed, we would not have had to pay for so much help and could have taken our time in loading and unloading the truck and it would have been closer to 100 Euros.

The nice thing about SIXT is that you can request a truck online without having to put any money down.  You can make a tentative reservation online and add on the drivers, etc. and pay in-person when you pick up the truck as long as you bring the reservation number from the email.

The final thing I’ll touch on here is boxes.  Moving boxes are very expensive here.  One friend told us that anytime friends or family are getting rid of moving boxes, her parents take them and store them for later use.  You can expect to pay around 5 Euros per box if you buy them in the store.  If you look for sales, you may get them cheaper.  People typically sell them (again, EBay Classifieds) for about 1 Euro a piece (used boxes).  We asked the grocery store outside of our last sublet for boxes and were also given several boxes from a friend.  Between these two free options, we were able to acquire between 40 and 50 boxes for moving.  The other thing to consider is that most moving boxes are very big, so boxes from the store can sometimes be better for dishes, etc.  Otherwise, you can only fill the boxes up partially.

Hopefully this information helps some of you out.  We spent the first 7 months or so living in a furnished sublet.  We had limited space to work with, but did acquire a bed for our daughter and a small loveseat-sized couch.  We then moved into another sublet that was a little bigger for three months.  We purchased a lot of the furniture from this sublet, but still needed more furniture to complete an apartment.  Once we had a rental agreement in place and knew how big our apartment was going to be, we began searching for inexpensive or free items online.  A friend helped us pick these items up and we spent two months filling up a storage building in preparation for our move.

We found that SIXT was the cheapest way to go for truck rentals in Frankfurt.

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