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‘Sharing economy’ booking requires utmost care

January 19, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The perils and rip-offs that can hit unwary travellers who book accommodation directly through “sharing economy” platforms has been illustrated vividly by a number of recent cases of people being fleeced of their cash.

In New Zealand, a family from Spain paid NZD 17,000 (about AUD 15,500) for an Airbnb rental – only to turn up with their luggage after a long journey to discover the listing was fake and all their money had been lost.

The Spanish family apparently deviated from the Airbnb system and paid by an international bank transfer to a third party. In such cases there is usually little hope of recovering the money.

The case wasn’t all gloom, as parents and community members got together and donated a house full of furniture and a discounted rental home to the family so they didn’t have to return home. An excellent community effort – but still a big loss for the family.

False security

Consumer authorities in various countries are warning renters of a major red flag. It arises when bookers are asked by a host to make direct communication or payments outside the Airbnb online payment platform.

Sometimes the host asks that any questions be directed to an email address listed in the description.

Then, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in the US: “Once contact is made, the scammer states that the property is not available for the stated dates but offers a similar property with a link attached.”

The link is to a spoofed Airbnb site that looks almost identical to the real, official one. If the consumer has questions, the scam site offers a live chat option (which is not offered on the official site).

“Once the consumer has decided to rent the property, they are prompted to wire money and are never contacted again,” the BBB notes.

“As soon as a renter wires money outside of Airbnb, the company [Airbnb] is no longer liable”.

Beware the sting!

MEANWHILE, since Airbnb’s revenue reached over USD 1 billion last year and an initial public offering (IPO) is said to be in the offing, a new kind of scam has begun.

Fraudsters are reported to be emailing and cold-calling consumers in Britain, offering to sell shares in Airbnb’s IPO.

There is much talk currently about an impending Airbnb IPO, though the company has not yet set a date for it.

“Fraudsters with American and Australian accents” purporting to be from a Swiss bank are phoning British victims, spruiking the coming IPO and following it up by sending official-looking paperwork, terms and conditions.

One victim transferred GBP 6000 (about AUD 10,400) for non-existent Airbnb shares. Needless to say, the money is almost certainly gone for good.

Written by Peter Needham

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