This is the time of year where students all over the world are informed whether they have successfully got into their dream educational establishment. It is a time for celebrating for many, but also a time for frantically chasing down a new place to live.
Scammers know this and they are quick to capitalize on desperate young people looking for rentals.
This can cause your moderation volumes to spike, leaving unwanted listings live for longer and keeping users waiting for their listings to go live.
To combat long queues, we want to help you automate as much of the process as possible using a tool like Implio to set up rules targeting student accommodation scams, specifically.
What to automate to reduce rental scams?
Student accommodation scams can be quite elaborate and thus complex which means at some stage in the process a human judgement is often required. That doesn’t mean that automation can’t make the process more efficient though. You just have to take a bit of time defining which part of the process can be automated and how to ensure that the automation is well orchestrated.
Let’s get you started with some general scam markers for student accommodation listings that can easily be found with automation.
A recurring element of fraudulent listings is that scammers rarely provide a phone number. They also generally use free emails like Gmail or Hotmail.
With automation you can isolate all listings that do not have a phone number or that use Hotmail or Gmail addresses.
Scammers want to ensure that the funds they claim, cannot be recovered by the victim. As such most of them will ask for wire transfers by for instance Western Union or MoneyGram.
Similarly most scams revolve around getting the money before the victim gets a chance to catch on to the scam. As such there will often be a request for advance payments.
To automate this part, set up rules that look for keywords like “Western Union” “MoneyGram” or “pay in advance” and similar phrases.
Spending a bit of time looking through fraudulent ads will reveal the type of words that scammers use.
The description of a listing can disclose a lot about the poster. Scam signs include bad spelling or sentence construction; wording that shows that the writer is not a native speaker. There are also certain phrases that will immediately raise a red flag with experienced moderators. Any claims of the landlord being a missionary abroad and not available to show off the apartment for instance should make you wary of the listing.
Finally the text of fraudulent student accommodation listings will likely include a feature list of all the stuff a student in that area would be looking for. Looking at other listings you should be able to find common popular features like “close to bars” or “own bathroom”.
As with payments, you can automate the language aspect by creating a list of words and phrases that scammers regularly use, then setup a rule that looks for these.
Scammers will only target popular areas as that is where the most likely victims will be looking. In order to move their scams along quickly, they will usually offer accommodation quite a bit below the market value.
Create a list of educational institutes in the bigger cities covered by your site. Then familiarize yourself with the average prices for apartments and rooms in those areas. This will give you a pricing benchmark and allow you to set up a rule that looks for apartments and rooms below this price.
Combine rules and moderation methods
Running just one of these rules will most likely result in a lot of false positives, but if you combine a couple of them, they will give you a much more accurate outcome.
We recommend a process where you auto list everything that doesn’t get caught by these rules and let everything else get routed to human moderators who can evaluate whether or not the post is fraudulent.
We will soon post another blog post where we discuss what human moderators need to know in order to handle the more complex cases. So stay tuned for part two of how to keep home seeking students safe.