My gf and I have been looking for a rooftop apt. through the usual channels, Tsui Ma Ma, the Forumosafieds, the Tealit apt. section and the occasional realtor in neighborhoods we like. A few weeks ago I put this ad up on Tealit:
"We are a couple looking for a rooftop apartment within a few minutes walk or bus ride of the brown line. Anybody giving up or know of a cool spot...??? NT15,000...?"
Last night I got a phone call from a young guy calling himself "Benson" or "Vincent" (his pronunciation was pretty crappy), and that he was helping his uncle find a tenant for his NT16,000 rooftop apt. If we wanted, he could show us the place tomorrow(now today) at 1:00. The first flag went up when he asked me if I understood that the deposit was two months rent and that I should bring it with me tomorrow. But I thought, "Maybe his uncle is just eager to get a tenant to sign up right away." I agreed to meet with with him, but didn't bring any money. Just my ATM card.
So, earlier today we meet him in front of cali. fitness at Zhongxiao Dunhua and he takes us to his "aunts" apt. He calls someone and a lady comes down to let us into the building. We go in to check the place out and its great. Much bigger than other comparably priced places, recently redone and in a great location. We want it. We tell him we want it. Now, I should mention here that my gf and I can only speak a minimal amount of Chinese, so "Benson" acted as the translator between us and his "aunt." He says that because his "uncle" wants him to broker the deal, "Benson" my gf and I should all go to starbucks and discuss the details. Up goes second flag.
Ok, really wanting the apt. and giving this guy the benefit of the doubt I think, "Maaaaaybe his uncle HAS designated him as the broker. Maybe the 'uncle' and the 'aunt' have a strange relationship with each other and money." Either way, things were beginning to feel a bit fishy at this point.
On the way to Starbucks, he explains that because his "aunt" and "Uncle" live in Taichung, he will take care of everything related to the apt. We will pay rent to him and call him if we have any problems or need repairs done. Once we got to Starbucks, we sat down and I started asking about the terms of the lease. He calls someone to ask them about the details of the lease. Claims its his aunt. Red flag #3! Why are we sitting in a coffee shop talking on the phone instead of dealing with his "aunt" in person.
He gets off the phone and says that his aunt would prefer if there is no contract, but that if we want the apartment we should give him at least NT20,000 right now. WTF!!! I tell him that we are willing to give him money, but we need to go back to the apartment, sign a lease with his aunt and get the keys. He says that's impossible because she is leaving for Taichung in a few minutes and that he is the one in charge of the deal. He says that we need to give him a large part of the deposit now to guarantee that we get the apt., if we do we can come back in two days and get the keys and sign the lease with his aunt.
We refuse, explaining that were not giving him a large sum of money until we have keys in hand. He finally says that a NT2000 "holding fee" will be ok and that we can come back on thursday to take care of the other details. We agree. At this point I take out my phone to take a picture of him. HE FREAKS OUT!!! He refuses to uncover his face so long as my phone is out. I tell him that I like for my friends' pictures to come up on my phone when they call, and that since he will be our landlord, I want his picture in my phone. He keeps his face covered for a good thirty seconds, saying things like "I'm too fat!" or "I look bad today!"
After this it is very clear to me that the guy is full of shit. I tell him that we want to back to the apartment and have one more look before we give him the money. He says that he has to leave right then, that he can't go with us and that we should just give the money to his "aunt." He gets up and walks out, we follow ten seconds later and he must have started running because he is NOWHERE to be seen.
We go back to the apt. to talk with his "aunt." Turns out, she's never seen the guy before in her life. He found her apt. on Yahoo and told her that he was helping his waiguoren friends. Oh, and the apt isn't NT16,000 its NT24,000.
I've already called someone I know at the FAP and given them his phone #, although I doubt they will be able to do anything with it. Also, I called a few people who had similar postings in the "Housing Wanted" section of Tealit to warn them about this guy.
His con relies on foreigners inability to speak chinese and their naivety regarding taiwan rental or business transactions. I hope no one falls for this guys scam. However, if you have or know someone who has bitten please contact Josh Young at the Foreign Affairs Police 02-2325-5901 and let him know.
This guy may still be cruising the Tealit and/or Forumosa message boards for potential marks. He may have other scams in addition to this one. A few weeks ago there were about a half dozen postings for apartments, all with the exact same grammatical mistake ("If this sounds interested to you...") but each with a different email address. Which may or may not be related to this guy or his associates.
If you know anyone who is looking for an apt. please warn them about this guy. He is a twenty something taiwanese guy, a little heavy by Asian standards, nearly six feet tall and claims that he is an english teacher. If he does contact you, play along for long enough to get his picture with your phone and email it to the FAP.