/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Scam watch: stung by a fake holiday listing

Paris skyline

One Which? member contacted us to tell about a crafty bank-transfer scam he fell victim to when trying to book a holiday letting on Airbnb for a trip to Paris.

Which? member Amit told us: ‘I’ve fallen victim to a fake listing on Airbnb. The Paris apartment included an image stating that we’d need to get in touch with the owner to confirm available dates. I emailed the owner, who confirmed the apartment was available.

‘Afterwards, I received an email, which appeared to be from Airbnb, with bank-transfer details. I transferred the money and the owner confirmed he had received the funds. Soon after, the property was no longer listed on the website.

‘I got in touch with Airbnb, which clarified that the booking reference number was invalid and said it was unable to offer any further help.

‘I’ve since noticed the scammer continuing to operate on Airbnb under a different name with the same pictures of the same property. What can I do?’

Our advice on using Airbnb safely

We’ve heard of several cases of fake listings on direct-from-owner booking sites. Airbnb will refund customers if the property they booked was misrepresented, or even worse, doesn’t exist. Airbnb will also help you to find alternative accommodation.

However, if you transfer funds outside of its website, you don’t get any of these protections and unfortunately there’s nothing you can do to get your money back. It’s important to never pay for holiday accommodation by bank transfer.

It’s important to never pay for holiday accommodation by bank transfer.

Airbnb provide the facilities to make payments on their website and advise that offline or cash payments are a violation of their Terms of Service. We’re currently investigating what Airbnb is doing to prevent fake listings from appearing on its website.

If you’ve fallen victim to a similar holiday accommodation scam, let us know in the comments below.

Comments
Member

The first thing I would normally say is to always go through an official site whether that be to pre-book an apartment or a complete holiday but after the recent travel company Lowcost Travel Group going bang and not being ATOL registered which has resulted in thousands of people losing money and their holiday you have to wonder. Clearly from reading your story Amit is not going to get his money back so I would only say ‘Once bitten twice shy’.

Member

I appreciate that Airbnb can disclaim any liability by referring to its terms and conditions that all payments must be transacted through its website, but it surely cannot deny its responsibility to check the credentials of the people who use the site to secure bookings for their properties. I daresay screening will be difficult and possibly expensive but it is the only way forward if the business is to prosper and serve the markets both for making accommodation available and for booking it. It is good that Airbnb say they will refund customers if the property they booked was misrepresented, or didn’t exist, and will also help to find alternative accommodation, but that is a shaky business model that undermines commercial confidence. They must make it absolutely clear that there is no protection whatsoever for off-site payments and for bookings made in that way so that people are not deceived by fraudulent bookings.

Member

“However, if you transfer funds outside of its website, you don’t get any of these protections and unfortunately there’s nothing you can do to get your money back. It’s important to never pay for holiday accommodation by bank transfer.
It’s important to never pay for holiday accommodation by bank transfer.”

It was certainly worth emphasising the point for those who read these Conversations.

The AirBnB model is I would argue is inherently insecure, and has had unintended consequences thta people using it may not have considered.

Security. Allowing you have had a genuine booking and a place to stay how secure are the premises? How many hundreds of people have had the opportunity to duplicate keys? What are the fire precautions like?
Are the rooms secure from prying devices? Does your travel insurance cover this type of arrangement?

Consequences. Reports that in popular tourist cities previous student properties are now being used by landlords for AirBnB customers. This leads to significanly more “new” traffic. In Berlin there is AFAIK a city ordinance against this sort of letting of flats as effectively the block becomes a hotel without any of the safeguards and much to the disturbance of the normal residents.

Member

It’s not for everyone, DT. But for those that like that sort of thing it’s the sort of thing they like. A lot of people seem to be very happy with the edginess of it and say it enables them to get away more often. They will accept the risk of a ten percent dissatisfaction rate with the accommodation. I reckon the people who book with Airbnb are pretty savvy and do more homework than other vacationers – it’s all part of the enjoyment.

Member
Daniel Walker says:
6 February 2017

This seems to be happening on HomeAway (https://www.homeaway.co.uk/) frequently, my partner just paid £4,500 for a Villa in Spain for it only to be a fake listing. Through your knowledge, is there anything we can do here? as the site isn’t taking any responsibility and I would love to get this feedback out there to all of it’s users.
Kind Regards