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Airbnb scam

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On December 10th, 2012, after several weeks of searching for an apartment to rent in Paris next spring, I found exactly what I was looking for on the AIRBNB website. It was a 2 bedroom, 2 baths beautifully decorated grand apartment in a quiet street in the trendy Le Marais neighborhood (AIRBNB listing No. 532723 though I suspect that has been changed). I used the “contact the owner” button on the AIRBNB page for the apartment and within minutes I received an email from the owner with a quote for the rental period. The rate was reasonable and it included transportation to and from the airport and offered a 20% discount for paying in full within a week. The email included information about the “owner” of the apartment and contact phone numbers and addresses. It all looked normal enough. They forwarded a contract and a bank account and we wire-transferred the money. That was the last time we heard from them.
First the mea-culpa. There were plenty of red flags we ignored in this transaction. The deal was too good to be true, the money transfer offered no security, the hurry up and pay was suspicious. All should have given me plenty of pause, but we forged ahead mostly because I trusted someone I had contacted through a reputable website.
After realizing our mistake I contacted AIRBNB directly. Their response only added insult to injury. I never expected AIRBNB to reimburse the money lost. But when I explained to them how I made the initial contact with the scammers, I expected some kind of “we’ll try to investigate how this happened so it won’t happen again” response. Instead AIRBNB denied they had any record of the initial contact and all but accused me of inventing the whole thing even though I had forwarded them all emails exchanged, the contract we received from the scammer and the official receipt from our bank transfer. They sent me a pre-written statement that warned against going outside their website to close a transaction and pretty much washed their hands off.
By blaming me and ignoring the deeper problem of how this fraud was committed, AIRBNB is shooting themselves on the foot. Yes, I am out of a substantial amount which I had no expectations of recovering once I realized our mistake, but they have a bigger problem than I do because the only way I could have been contacted by these people is if they hacked into the AIRBNB site or into the real owner’s email. As I explained to them, I made first contact through their website and sent no personal information about myself other than an interest in the apartment on that initial contact. Either way, I am absolutely sure I won’t be the first or last customer scammed this way. So beware, thread very carefully with these kind of online transactions and be warned that if anything goes wrong, at least when dealing with AIRBNB, most likely you’ll be on your own.

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