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Nick Wharton By
Posted 24 Mar, 2020 | 161 Comments
Posted in: Travel Blogs

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.

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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.

Please Note: This Airbnb scam was done on a FAKE Airbnb website and in no way impacts the way the authentic website’s security, user experience or refund policy works. The scam you’re about to read about is a tricky one, but it is not actually Airbnb being involved in shady practices. If you continue to only use the real Airbnb website to communicate with hosts and book your accommodations, you will have no issue.

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.

Airbnb Scam Website Listing

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!”.

To read about our good experiences with Airbnb and other online apartment sites, check out: 9 Beautiful Apartments We’ve Rented Around The World

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.

Airbnb Scam Website Listing 2

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.

Airbnb Scam Website Listing Adress

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.

Don’t fall for Airbnb scams. Sign-up for (the real) Airbnb today and get $35 off your first booking. If you already have an account, no problem. Simply log-out and set up a new account using a new email to get the $35 credit. All you have to do is Click Here to get our special Goats On The Road deal.

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.

Airbnb Scam
View From a Good Airbnb Booking We Had in Valparaiso, Chile

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.

Airbnb Scam Email Communication With Host
An Email From Our Con Man

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.

Airbnb Scam Contact Airbnb Customer Support

 

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.

Don’t fall for Airbnb scams. Sign-up for (the real) Airbnb today and get $35 off your first booking. If you already have an account, no problem. Simply log-out and set up a new account using a new email to get the $35 credit. All you have to do is Click Here to get our special Goats On The Road deal.

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!

Like This Article? Pin it!

“The Airbnb Scam Travellers Need To Know AboutHow To Avoid Airbnb Scams“The Airbnb Tips You Need To Know Before You Travel

 

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Nick Wharton

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Nick is the co-founder, editor and author of Goats On The Road. He contributes to numerous other media sites regularly and shares his expert knowledge of travel, online entrepreneurship and blogging with the world whenever he can. He has been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and has more than 10 years of experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Nick’s advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and he spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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161 thoughts on “The Airbnb Scam Travellers NEED To Know About

  1. Whoaaa Goats,

    Thanks for the headsup, we are regular airbnb users too and this is quite an evil scam thats highly difficult to spot, we will be doubly cautious from now on and look for tell tale signs

  2. Oh my… I had no idea that this AirBnB scam existed! But well then again… It had to come with such a popular website managing money, right?

    I’m happy that you managed to see the errors before it was too late. Your tips on how to double check whether it is a scam or not, are great! Thanks for sharing, guys!

  3. This is a very useful information. I use AirBnB a lot, and I guess that having some extra attention to details could only be a good thing. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Do not use Craigslist in Portugal, Probably you should not use it in any European country. Nobody here uses it and it is always full of scams.

  5. This is crazy! Glad to have read this though, I’ll definitely make sure I’m on my guard for the next time.

    FYI, the HuffPost author is female – in the blog you’ve made it sound like she is a ‘he’ ! I think you maybe got mixed up because the 2+2 guy is male. Thought I’d let you know!

  6. The first thing I noticed is that there was no https with the little lock icon in the address bar. Any legitimate site will have this configuration. The “S” in https is for secure. Never buy or transfer any data over a non secure site. Most scammers won’t bother to put this in place so it is a sure sign of an illegitimate site.

    – Len

  7. I’m glad you guys caught on to it before paying! I have used airbnb quite a few times, and from my experience, I do not use any links landlords send me, I book directly via the airbnb app on my phone. Sure,I communicate with landlords via email or via WhatsApp or wechat but when it comes to payment I stick exclusively to the official app, the owners can adjust the price in the app itself if they want to offer a discount.
    Stay safe, thanks for sharing your experiences!

  8. Thanks for the heads-up Goats! I was nearly scammed some years ago while trying to book lodging in Key West – luckily I noticed something suspicious and cross-referenced the address (red flag) with a quick google search and found the property was listed for sale with several real estate companies. Calld one and they confirmed it was not a rental but privately owned and on the market. We are traveling to S. Spain and Portugal in October and I wl be looking for a place in Portugal, LMK if you have any recommendations. TY 🙂

  9. I read the article with a great deal of interest as I too am a frequent Airbnb user and a super host. What confuses me is that every time I have corresponded with a potential guest or host and either offered a website, email, phone number Airbnb blanked it out.

    Show the obvious question is, why was the website that you linked to not block out by Airbnb?

  10. Whoa. This is crazy.

    What’s funny, (and I say this as a host) is that AirBNB is just starting to use a feature where you can list the exact address of your property (not the map with the general grey circle) so that might not have tipped me off that it was a phony listing. Good catch!

  11. I have used Airbnb many times without any issues and I would reccomend the site as a very safe way to book a holiday accommodation. But I guess scammers always find a way….Thank you so much for the heads up on this scam. I hope you have a great time in Grenada again

  12. Unreal. We just booked a place via Airbnb for June (California) and I was so nervous to do it but had a good gut feeling. I have only connected with the owner through Airbnb so now we just keep our fingers crossed for a good outcome. We have only booked through VRBO and it’s been great so I hope this will be too.

  13. Wow! I had no idea that this scam existed. Thanks for sharing and I will share also – I know lots of people that would have no idea that a) the scam existed and b) how to tell that it’s not legit. Thanks!!

  14. Thank you so much for the heads up on this Goats, and long may Dariece’s suspicious eye continue!