Airbnb long-term rental scam: Red flags and exposed scammers
Have you encountered an apartment rental where Airbnb has to arrange the rent payments and key handover? Inspecting the apartment before sending the money is not possible, whatever the reasons. Read on to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.
The scam scenario is always similar. The landlord offers to rent the apartment, where you pay the deposit and rent via Airbnb. Once you agree on the rental, payment instructions will arrive “from an Airbnb representative”. However, Airbnb has nothing to do with the rental. Scammers abuse the name of a well-known service to gain the victim’s trust.
The goal is to lure money quickly and then cut off communication. There is no property tour, and they never hand over the keys. I have been tracking rental scams since 2014. I know people who have lost thousands of euros. However, hundreds of people have saved money because they found out about this type of scam in time. I am continually updating the article with new findings to keep the number of people defrauded to a minimum.
How to recognize a scam apartment rental
Signals in the ad
Scammers prey on victims on rental ad sites and less often on Facebook. First, they create a rental offer and usually steal some other offer’s ad text and photos.
If English is not the first language in your country, but some lesser-used language (such as Hungarian or Finnish), they will use a translator.
Even someone who wants to rent their apartment becomes a victim.
It is already possible to suspect fraud from the advertisement. The more of the following points apply to the advert, the more likely it is a scam:
⚠️ Suspiciously low price
The advertised rental price may be significantly lower than the normal market rent. While this is €800 a month, excluding fees, the scammer offers the same property for €400 with all the extras. He needs to impress.
⚠️ Ad is on free servers
Scammers place rental offers exclusively on free ad servers or Facebook. Often, only an email address is the contact, with no phone number or information on whether it is the owner or a real estate agent.
Sometime since 2020, scammers have learned to bypass phone number verification. Do not be surprised if a phone number with your country code appears next to the ad. It may still be a scam, and you will never reach the phone number listed.
⚠️ It is not possible to see the apartment in person
You can never see the apartment before you send money. A popular excuse is that the owner currently abroad has the only pair of keys.
Communicating with the landlord and building trust
The landlord almost exclusively uses email to contact you. This gives him the guarantee of anonymity, time, and the ability to communicate in a foreign language. Although the scammer is usually a foreigner, he can communicate from your country’s email address. In the email, he may ask to communicate in English, which is easier for him.
A tell-tale sign for some languages is the confusion of masculine and feminine — where a person with a female name writes as a man.
The scammer will invent a false identity and their relationship to your country. He aims to appear as respectable as possible, to give the impression of being a decent and fair person. He often claims to have lived in the country for several years and is now using the apartment as a summer residence or that he works as a doctor or police officer. Who could be more serious than a policeman?
To increase his credibility, he can include scanned documents – driver’s license, passport, service card, and a few private photos. In all cases, it is either identity theft (stolen or copied photos of another duped unfortunate) or photo montages.
You can easily verify the photos’ authenticity by uploading and searching Google images. Verify all the photos the tenant sends you this way. If Google finds the image, it is most likely a scam. If you go through a few of the links, you will confirm it immediately.
This tends to be suspicious
⚠️ A stranger has email from a local provider
Even though the scammer admits to being a foreigner, he uses an email address that resembles your country to communicate. Often, they also use pseudo-local names. Because they are unfamiliar with local realities, it may be easy for a native to recognise that no such name exists. It is like I made up a name that sounds Dutch… and there is not one.
⚠️ The scammer sends you stolen documents
What better way to inspire confidence than to send the victim your documents? Who would suspect that a passport, a driver’s license, a police officer’s service card, or a private photo is either fake or stolen?
One of the first misused identities was that of Detective Luca Paight from Cleveland, UK, around 2014. Scammers obtained his passport, police ID, driver’s license, and a photo of him with his family and used it to build trust with victims.
I know of several cases where scammers have taken advantage of a Slovak or German citizen. However, I have managed to track them down. I have spoken to them, and they have confirmed how the fraudsters achieved this.
⚠️ How to inspire trust
The scammer may claim to have lived in your country for several years. However, they do not speak the local language and use a translator. Although he does not offer an apartment, he always acts like he does. For example, he asks for information about the number of tenants, the date of moving in, or scanned documents.
Do not send him personal documents under any circumstances. You are putting yourself at risk of identity theft and abuse. In addition, the fraudster may offer rentals or commit other criminal activity on your behalf. If you have sent scans of your ID to fraudsters, report them as stolen (or misused).
Airbnb will make renting safer
In one of the steps, the scammer suggests that Airbnb will arrange the rental. They will take care of the payment and hand over the keys to the tenant, as the scammer can now come to town.
This is nonsense; Airbnb does not hand over any keys.
To increase trust, scammers sometimes prepare fake websites that are supposed to resemble the Airbnb website. You can identify the fake page with several small details.
⚠️ Wrong address
If you look closely, you will notice that the site address is not Airbnb. Instead of com/ it is conferma-paysafecard.com/. Or any other, but it is always what comes before the first slash of the address that matters. If you have any doubts about the site’s authenticity, check the address.
This method is called phishing. It aim is to slip the user a fake page that looks as much like the official one as possible, for example, a domain or email address.
⚠️ Copied design
The design of the fake scammers’ website copies the design of Airbnb. However, it has nothing to do with this website; in fact, it is damaging the brand and reputation of Airbnb.
⚠️ Unreasonably high ratings and a number of guests and reviewers
At least, in this case, the scammers were being unreasonable with the number of raters and guests. While other Airbnb hosts have ratings in the tens, at most in the lower hundreds for the most active users, the scammer boasts 1,639 guests and ratings from 563 users. The ratings are, of course, the highest possible.
This is especially suspicious for someone offering property for long-term rental.
⚠️ Superhost badge
The scammer also added a superhost badge to his profile.
This status is for users who meet several conditions. These include a minimum of ten completed bookings, a response index of at least 90%, a user rating of at least 80%, and closure of each booking. Checking the compliance with the conditions is four times a year.
⚠️ Links lead nowhere
If you click on any link on the site, it either does not work or redirects you to a non-relevant page on the actual Airbnb site.
If you do not cut off communication even at this point (which I recommend), it will inform you that it has passed the whole thing on to Airbnb for resolution. It will tell you to wait for an email from them with further instructions on how to proceed and, most importantly, where to pay.
Shortly after, you get an email pretending to be sent by Airbnb. In reality, it is the scammer, which you can easily tell from the address from which the email arrived. In the email, there is a confirmation of the information provided by the scammer (not to be, since he sends the emails) and payment instructions.
1️⃣ Pay anonymously with Paysafecard
Sometime before 2019, people often used prepaid Paysafecard cards to transfer money.
Paysafecard is a reputable system operating around the world. Unfortunately, fraudsters also favour it. Money transfers through it are quite difficult to trace.
A scammer, or a scammer posing as Airbnb, will ask you to buy Paysafecard vouchers in the agreed rent amount. They will then ask you to send them the numbers and PINs of your purchased coupons. Once you send them to the scammer, you will lose money.
The scammer immediately turns the money into cash, and it is almost impossible to recover it.
2️⃣ Payment to a bank account
In 2019, transfers of “rent” to foreign bank accounts, most often in Germany, have become more prevalent. For example, I have personally come across an account with SolarisBank, operated under a German license.
There is some indication that bank accounts are white horses, and the principle of operation of SolarisBank may allow fraudsters to set up an endless number of unique account numbers.
What to do if you have been scammed
It depends on what point you are at, however, I recommend following these steps:
1️⃣ Stop the flow of money
If you have sent money by bank transfer, contact your bank immediately and ask them to stop the transfer. Do the same if you give the other party your credit card number.
Spoiler: The likelihood of you getting your money back is relatively low. I know of only one case from August 2022 where a victim from Slovakia contacted the bank and had the money back in his account the next day. However, call the bank.
If you have already purchased Paysafecard coupons, block them immediately.
2️⃣ Go to the police to file a criminal complaint
Go to your nearest police station and file a criminal complaint against an unknown offender for fraud. The police will write everything down, and you can document the emails from the fraudsters as evidence. Do not delete any emails.
If you sent copies of your documents, report this to the police and ask for confirmation that your documents can be misused. It is highly likely that fraudsters will use your name and documents in future advertisements.
If the police contact Paysafecard or the bank, provide them with information about who is on the other side of the transaction.
Spoiler: the police are unlikely to detect the culprits. They have to follow the law and the fraudsters are from abroad. Often from countries where international cooperation is extremely difficult. For example, the Facebook Marketplace fraudster I exposed lived in Burkina Faso.
3️⃣ Report the advert and email address as fraudulent
Write to the site where you found the advert and alert them to the fraudulent behaviour. You can send a link to this article. The aim is to delete the advert from the internet as soon as possible so that there are no more fraudsters.
In the same way, have the email used by the scammers blocked.
4️⃣ Let me know
And finally, please: If you have come across a different scam scenario than I describe in the article or other stolen identities, please notify me at email@example.com. This way I can stay in the loop and warn other potential victims. The more information you provide about the scam, the better.
Updates and changes in offender behaviour
In the summary below, I list the known identities that scammers use in advertisements and communications. In addition to names, I deliberately publish addresses, emails, phone numbers and bank account numbers. By publishing these, this article can be traced by other people who may want to rent an apartment from the scammers.
To be sure, I repeat: The real people listed below have nothing to do with the scams, their documents and identities have been misused.
- Eduard Wiest (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hertin Loer (email@example.com)
- Sabrina Lauenstein (firstname.lastname@example.org)
🔴 February 2022: Identity Barbara Christine Baehr + German passport
Fraudsters are now exploiting the identity of Barbara Christine Baehr in connection with at least an apartment in Sternberg. To increase credibility, they send a photocopy of a passport in the name of Dr. Barbara Christine Baehr Hoffmann with the year of birth 1953.
Interestingly, Barbara Baehr is a well-known German entomologist with a Wikipedia profile in several languages. The fraud scenario is identical to the previous cases. Communication is from the email address email@example.com.
I contacted the real Dr. Barbara Christine Baehr on February 20, 2022. She confirmed to me that her identity was stolen when she wanted to rent an apartment in Tübingen, Germany.
This article about Airbnb Scam was originally published in Czech by the same author. This post is a translation of it. The facts described in the article are based on the author’s experience with frauds in the Czech Republic. In other countries some details or procedures may differ.