As some of you know, we’ve been looking for a new flat recently. Our five year lease is up, our landlord is selling the place (he’s a decent chap, and has always been straight with us, so no hard feelings) and so – with a certain amount of regret – we’re moving on. It’s been a little bit sad seeing all our neighbours’ doors decorated for the season and realising that this is our last Christmas here.
It’s not been easy finding somewhere else : rents are up, and vacancies (for residential contracts) are down. There are any number of reasons for this which you can read about elsewhere, but I won’t go into here. So we’ve seen a few places that ranged from cheap(ish) but depressing to smart but unaffordable.
And then, a few weeks ago, we got an email from a Dr E—— C——– who told us she had an apartment to rent in Cannaregio, not very far from where we are now. “Fondamenta Ghetto” is an address which doesn’t actually exist but, nevertheless, it gave us an idea of the area. Similarly, it was a bit strange to see it being advertised as having ‘parking’ but that, surely, was just a cut-and-paste error or, perhaps, it even had mooring for a boat? 100 m2, four rooms, two bathrooms, air conditioning, recently restored and available on the now rare-as-hen’s-teeth 4+4 contract. The flat, from the attached photographs, looked clean and modern and the rent was absurdly low. Too good to be true, surely, but nevertheless worth investigating further.
The good dottoressa was delighted to be in touch with us, and just wanted to know a few more things about ourselves. Given that landlords like to know about hobbies such as a propensity for playing Norwegian Death Metal in the middle of the night, this wasn’t all that unusual, if, perhaps, just a little bit strange given that we hadn’t even seen the place yet. Nevertheless, we gave her some basic information – nothing more, really, than you could find via Google.
Wonderfully, she seemed to think we were exactly the right people for her flat which she would make available to us on either a one year, 3+2 or 4+4 contract. There was just one thing : she was about to move to Switzerland for five years, and, unfortunately, it would be impossible for us to see the flat before moving in…
At this point the “too good to be true” signal started flashing.
This wouldn’t, she explained, be a problem as the rental would be arranged via AirBnB. We would pay two months deposit and a month’s rent in advance, but in the event – unlikely of course – of us not being completely happy with the flat, we would get a complete refund.
Oh, there was just one other thing. Could she have a scan of our ID cards?
At this point, warning lights were flashing, sirens were sounding, and we were reminded of that nice Nigerian gentleman who got in touch with us a few years ago who asked if we could help him with a temporary cash-flow problem.
We did not reply further to the good dottoressa. Since then, she has not been in touch with us either.
A little research on the internet revealed this to be a scam, and one growing in popularity. The flat, of course, does not exist. The photos are stock ones. AirBnB are not involved in this and – as far as I know – do not arrange long-term rentals. The scam works in one of two ways, either by separating you from your money or by stealing your identity.
I was unsure what to do about this. Could we, should we, go to the police and make a denuncia? Should I get in touch with my journalist contacts? Could this even be a case for Nathan Sutherland?
In the end, we did nothing. I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do or not, or, indeed, if there was anything that could have been done. I’m writing this just to say that – if you’re looking to rent a flat in Venice, or, indeed, anywhere – just be careful out there.
And in case you’re worried about us, please don’t be. We are moving to Dorsoduro in February and are very happy and excited at the prospect. But more news about that next year…