California Woman Says Scammers Made Fake Airbnb Site to Take Her Money

The ABC News Fixer has tips to keep your $ safe when using popular site.

BySTEPHANIE ZIMMERMANN
July 1, 2016, 11:29 AM
PHOTO: The logos of Airbnb Inc. sit on banners displayed outside a media event in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 27, 2015.
The logos of Airbnb Inc. sit on banners displayed outside a media event in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 27, 2015.
Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

THE ABC NEWS FIXER — -- Dear ABC News Fixer: My husband and I used Airbnb.com to book a beautiful home in Maui, Hawaii for his 40th birthday. We found a listing that we loved and corresponded with the host.

Soon after, we were emailed a link which, unbeknownst to us, took us to a clever copy of the Airbnb website. Believing it was the real site, we booked there and then wired money from our bank. We ended up losing $3,300 to a scammer.

We were upset that this scam started with a listing on the real Airbnb site. We tried to contact Airbnb to get some answers but got an email saying our case was closed and directing us to a link to their terms of service.

After doing some research, we found that this scam has occurred to many other people. Airbnb requires no proof of residence before listing a house and therefore becomes an ideal platform for scammers to connect with victims.

- Meenal Harris, Mission Viejo, Calif.

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

Dear Meenal: Thanks for the heads-up about this unfortunate scam. Just as with pretty much every other online industry, scammers have found ways to fraudulently make money off Airbnb, the popular home-sharing site. Your letter will help protect lots of other summer travelers.

You told the ABC News Fixer the scammer apparently took a photo from a legitimate listing and reposted it on Airbnb as his own rental. You said he included a personal email address in the listing, which is how you made contact. Soon after, you received an email containing what seemed to be a legit Airbnb link for booking – but as you know now, it was a fake.

The phony “host” told you that past renters had defaulted on their rent by using fraudulent credit cards, so he required payment by wire transfer (which he claimed would be held by Airbnb until after your stay). You thought that sounded odd, so you used the “Contact Us” feature on the site to ask whether that was OK. Little did you know, the reassuring response you got was not from the real Airbnb, but from the scammer himself, who was using the fake Airbnb site.

It was only after you had paid the $3,300 and the “host” disappeared that you began to connect all these dots.

You were luckier than some victims. You complained to your bank right away and they were able to reverse the transaction and get your money back. But you still wanted to know why these scams happen.

We asked Airbnb spokesman Nick Shapiro. He told us the company tries to prevent scams by warning users to keep all communications and payments within Airbnb’s secure platform. Airbnb also scans its site looking for personal contact information such as email addresses or phone numbers so they can be removed, Shapiro said.

The company’s fraud team is on the lookout for scam listings, but consumers need to be careful to never stray from the original site – for any reason.

Shapiro said the site also recently implemented new language to educate users on the importance of keeping their payments within the real Airbnb site.

One last tip: Shapiro told The Fixer that only confirmed guests who rent through the Airbnb platform are allowed to post reviews. So if you see a super hot property with no reviews, that may be a red flag.

- The ABC News Fixer

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