When is Airbnb not Airbnb? When it suddenly turns into a scam email

We thought we had made a legitimate booking through the site … now we have lost £824

We wanted to book a flat in Barcelona advertised on Airbnb. We checked all the reviews and all seemed positive. After booking, we were sent a series of emails from Airbnb. One asked us to email our address in order to secure the rental agreement. We did this, then received another email asking us to transfer the money to an Airbnb holding account.

We assumed this was procedure, did as instructed and thought that we had completed the booking process. By the time we realised it was a fake account, it was too late.

Airbnb promised an investigation. Later we came across a newspaper article about another customer who had been scammed over the same flat, published a week before our attempted booking and showed that Airbnb was aware of the issues. Although the link to the flat was removed after we complained, it was reinstated 24 hours later and left there for a further 48 hours.

We realise now that the website warns against giving out contact information, but we don’t think that this issue, or the processes, were highlighted clearly enough. We clicked to book through the Airbnb website, we found this user because of its website and were scammed because of the trust that we put in the site. We are now £824 out of pocket, with no accommodation for our stay in Barcelona, and Airbnb refuses to offer any compensation. CB, Manchester

Airbnb says that when you book and pay only through its website your money is protected – once you stray “offline” it can’t help you. However, you thought you were doing it through the website since the emails bore an Airbnb address and were in response to your initial contact via the site.

In fact you were supposed to communicate “on platform” by clicking the envelope icon at the top of the webpage rather than by personal email. Embedded within the online user guide is also advice to click the red flag to alert Airbnb if someone asks you to pay offline.

But again, deceived by the official-looking email address, you didn’t realise you were offline although if you’d navigated its myriad “Trust and Safety” pages, you would have seen a warning against emails masquerading as Airbnb.

You should have read through all the booking and payment advice before committing yourself, but I agree that they are not as clear as they might be. More outrageously, Airbnb appears to have been negligent in allowing the rogue entry to remain after being made aware of the problem. It tells me that it has 150 staff dedicated to security and removes fraudulent postings as soon as possible, so why was the fraudster allowed to continue operating when the website knew about him/her at least a week before you booked?

While it refunded the other customer caught by the same scam, it is retrenching in your case, presumably fearful of opening floodgates. “If a transaction happens outside of our platform and we have no record of it, it is very difficult for us to provide assistance,” says a spokesman.

Nor can you reclaim your money via the Consumer Credit Act or debit card chargeback schemes since you paid by bank transfer.

If you need help email Anna Tims at your.problems@observer.co.uk or write to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include an address and phone number.


Anna Tims

The GuardianTramp

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