Police search for scammer targeting foreigners with Helsinki apartments

Authorities say the suspect has said he's from Spain, and could be working with a female accomplice to defraud foreigners who use Facebook groups to find a place to live.

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Composite picture of suspected scammer / Credit: Helsinki Police

Helsinki Police are investigating a scammer targeting foreigners and offering them bogus apartment rentals in the capital city.

Authorities have taken the unusual step of publishing pictures of the suspect because so far they haven’t been able to positively identify him, and he may be still committing frauds.

“Police have registered criminal reports in four cases. Cases are investigated as fraud. The cases that came to the attention of the police took place during April-May” says Hannu Kortelainen from Helsinki Police.

A preliminary investigation has uncovered the method behind the scam: the suspect rents apartments, often from apartment hotel companies, using false personal information.

The rents for these properties haven’t been paid or paid with an unsecured foreign credit card and then the suspect sub-leases the apartments to foreigners who have been using Facebook groups to look for a place to live.

The suspect will approach his target victims via Facebook private messages and requests a cash payment of between €1,000 and €2,000 depending on the property and rental period.

Once he has the money, the Facebook account he uses is deleted.

Police say the suspect has used several different aliases on Facebook, and claimed to be from Spain. It is thought he works with a female accomplice, and the victims only discovered later that he had no rights to sublease the apartments, or that no money had been paid for the original lease.

Authorities think the man has tried similar rental scams in Turku and Tampere as well as Helsinki.