How the latest Airbnb phishing scam works

Use caution and common sense when booking through Airbnb.

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The popularity of Airbnb has skyrocketed in recent years as more and more travelers opt to rent houses and apartments from the home-sharing site. As Airbnb’s 150 million members can tell you, the benefits of the service are plentiful: saving money, being able to stay in off-the-beaten-path areas, connecting with hosts and locals, and discovering some seriously unique spaces (ethereal treehouse in Georgia, anyone?).

Airbnb works by connecting “hosts” (property owners looking to rent out their space) and guests, which makes for a more personalized experience than booking a hotel. But with so many people trading money and information, Airbnb’s booking system also provides an irresistible opportunity for scammers to take advantage of customers’ trust. Numerous high-profile scams have been reported since Airbnb’s inception. The latest Airbnb scam is particularly scary, because it has left travelers stranded in foreign countries with large sums of money missing and no place to stay.

The Latest Airbnb Scam

Here’s how it works: When an Airbnb user is communicating with a potential host about an upcoming stay, the host sends the guest a link as part of the booking process. Sometimes the host is transparent about wanting to take the transaction off-site (under the guise of a cheaper rate, for example), but sometimes the link is more deceptive. One victim reported being directed to an Airbnb phishing site (an exact copy of the real site) under the domain airbnb.com-listining-online31215.info. She didn’t realize she wasn’t on the real Airbnb site until it was too late.

Guests book their stay via the link rather than the official Airbnb site, and usually aren’t aware they’ve been scammed until they show up at their rental property to find the property either doesn’t exist, or the real owner isn’t aware they were coming. The worst part: Because they conducted the transaction off the Airbnb site, there’s not much Airbnb can do to help. The company is extremely helpful when it comes to issues arising from transactions on the site, but they frequently send out warnings against conducting any business via email or secondary sites because, in those cases, any problems are out of their jurisdiction.

It’s not known how widespread this new scam is, but the reports coming in give good reason to be vigilant during the booking process. One scammer lured multiple guests to the same nonexistent property in New York, swindling them out of as much as $400 a night. Arriving to a confused doorman and no place to stay, guests were forced to rent expensive hotel rooms at the last minute, adding to the financial sting.

How Can Users Avoid Falling Prey To This Scam?

When booking through Airbnb, pay attention to the URL at the top of the site to make sure you’re using the real Airbnb.com. Same goes for emails. If you get a message that seems to be from Airbnb, here’s a list of tips to verify its authenticity.

Most importantly, use caution and common sense—if you have a bad feeling about a host or a booking situation, flag it as a potential scam and let Airbnb take a look before you hand over any credit card information.

[h/t: CBS News]

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