We’ve been booking apartments on Airbnb for over 3 years and we’ve spent hours upon hours on the website, and yet, we almost fell for this Airbnb scam that would’ve cost us over $3,000 USD.
The Airbnb scam was so ingenious, and so well put together that I feel it’s extremely important that I share it with you all so that you don’t end up falling into the same trap.
Here’s how we almost fell for a fake Airbnb account and nearly lost $3,300.
We had been searching for a nice apartment in Lisbon, Portugal for about 3 weeks. We’d pretty much seen every place available on Airbnb in our price range but had no luck, so we started searching on Craigslist.
We were amazed to see that there were a couple of beautiful places that were within our price range. I contacted a few and the owners got back right away.
One owner in particular (who had a nice 1 bedroom right in the city with a big patio) got back to me and seemed to be quite “legit”.
His name was (supposedly) Reynolds Daniel and he told me that he felt more comfortable having me book the apartment through Airbnb.
He went on to say that Airbnb offers buyers protection so that I could simply put up the full payment, see the place before checking in and if I didn’t like or it wasn’t as it appeared in the photos, he’d allow a full refund through the Airbnb platform.
This sounded perfect for us. We know the rules on Airbnb and that they offer refunds for unhappy customers, so we were happy to have some kind of insurance for our initial deposit.
Finally, after a few more days, Reynolds Daniel sent me the link to book his apartment on the Airbnb website.
Here’s where the Airbnb scam begins.
When I clicked over to the link, initially everything looked fine. The site looked exactly like Airbnb at first glance (even to my eye, having spent countless hours browsing the site).
I put in my dates and voila, the price showed exactly what Mr. Daniel said it would be in his emails. €650 per month for three months plus a €650 deposit, plus an Airbnb fee for a total of €2,700 ($3,300 USD).
At this point, I called Dariece into the room.
“That Reynolds Daniel guy finally got back about the apartment and sent me the Airbnb link. Let’s book it!”.
Dariece was super excited and agreed that we should book it right away.
She sat down next to me and scanned the website because she wanted to read the reviews. Sure enough, there were ten 5 star reviews on the listing and everything looked great. The reviews were worded slightly strangely, but nothing too out of the ordinary.
Then we noticed that the URL of the listing was a little bit off. It showed “www.airbnb.com-request-booking.space/booking/…”. We were a bit confused by this, but as the URL started with “www.airbnb.com” I figured there was no way it could be a SPAM site.
It was my understanding that if the URL started with the proper brand with a dot com, it had to be authentic.
We then scrolled down and scanned the site with a slightly more scrutinous eye. This time we realized that the listing included the apartment’s exact address in Lisbon.
Usually, Airbnb doesn’t tell you the exact address until after you book in order to keep the privacy of the owner’s location and stop people from soliciting apartment offers outside of the Airbnb platform.
Now we were suspicious.
Finally, we spotted a working, live chat icon at the bottom right of the screen (yes, you could chat with it). While it would be great if Airbnb had this feature, we were well aware that they do not.
At this point we ran a Google search that went something like this:
“airbnb.com-request-booking.space/booking/ fake Airbnb website scam”
Sure enough, our search brought up a few very telling results, including an article on The Guardian and another on Huffington Post.
We read the article on Huff and after just a couple of minutes, we realized that we were almost the victims of a common Airbnb scam. The website we were looking at was a fake Airbnb site.
The article was titled: “Beware This Evil-Genius Scam” (probably a better title than I chose for this post) and it detailed the experience of the author who actually fell for the fraudulent website trick and lost $3,800 USD.
She also pointed out the red flags she should’ve noticed on the website like the reviews, the strange URL (although his URL was different than mine) and the live chat icon. The only difference between the author’s story and ours was that she actually lost her money.
In the author’s defense, she experienced the scam from a different angle that would be far harder to catch. She was actually communicating with the homeowner through the chat on the real Airbnb platform.
She found a place she liked, contacted the owner via Airbnb’s chat function and began a dialogue with him on the site. The owner eventually told her to send an email and their communications continued over email.
Then, after everything was agreed upon, the owner emailed her a link to his fraudulent Airbnb listing to make the payment.
Had I already been talking with the owner through the Airbnb platform, I may not have been so scrupulous in checking the website and I may very well have fallen for the trick like this poor soul did when he lost $36,000.
Think about it — if you’re chatting on the real Airbnb site, then you chat over a couple of emails and then the host sends you an email back to Airbnb, you’ll probably be pretty quick to book.
Luckily, Dariece has a keen eye for scams and we were able to thwart the efforts of this would-be cyber thief.
Had we booked, we would have then purchased our flights to Lisbon, gone there, taken a taxi from the airport to the address in the booking only to find out that there is no such apartment at that address and we’re out $3,300!
Heed This Warning
If you’re booking on Airbnb, be very wary of communicating outside of the platform and don’t book apartments through any Airbnb websites that don’t look exactly like the regular site.
Keep your eye out for small differences on the site and especially, check the URL to make sure it’s a normal Airbnb web address.
We’re all for contacting hosts to ask for discounts or special offers, but when they send you the links, make sure they’re on the authentic website. If you have any doubts whatsoever, contact Airbnb customer support and send them the URL to check its authenticity.
We are so happy that we didn’t fall for this Airbnb hoax, but we are frequent users of the platform.
We feel that if we hadn’t spent hours upon hours on the real site in the past, we could have easily booked this apartment on the fraudulent site and been out $3,300.
This post is for anyone who may find themselves in this same situation. Whether you found your apartment on Craigslist or another free apartment forum, or if you were sent a link from a host on the actual Airbnb site, be aware of this Air bnb scam.
Have you run into this Airbnb scam or any others that you feel may help travellers? Please share in the comments below and help others avoid getting ripped off!
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