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Family Falls Victim to Airbnb 'Clone' Scam, Loses Over $5,000

A family's dream Majorca trip took an unexpected turn when it fell victim to a sophisticated scheme.
Cover Image Source: A logo of Airbnb | Getty Images | Photo by Yuriko Nakao
Cover Image Source: A logo of Airbnb | Getty Images | Photo by Yuriko Nakao

In a heartbreaking turn of events, a UK family's dream vacation turned into a nightmare as they fell prey to a sophisticated Airbnb "clone" scam, resulting in a loss of more than $5,000. The unsuspecting victims meticulously planned their trip, only to have their hopes dashed just hours before departure. "I felt devastated for my children and my husband," Emma Last, 48, told PA Real Life.

A man looks at the website of Airbnb | Getty Images | Photo by Yuriko Nakao
Image Source: A man looks at the website of Airbnb | Getty Images | Photo by Yuriko Nakao

Emma, a mental health and well-being strategist, along with her husband Zak and their three children, Scarlette, Henri, and Xander, had eagerly anticipated an eight-night getaway to Majorca in August 2023. Having enjoyed a previous trip, the family was determined to make lasting memories. Emma spent months saving for the Mediterranean vacation and diligently searched for suitable accommodations on Airbnb.

Narrowing down their choices to three villas, the family vetted the listings on Google Earth to ensure their authenticity. However, the scam unfolded when clicking on the listings redirected them to a message instructing them to check WhatsApp for availability. Correspondence with a supposed representative named "Lyda from Travel Villas" followed, culminating in a link to confirm the booking at a discounted rate of $655 per night.

Pexels | Colon Freld
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Colon Freld

The unsuspecting family was lured into a web of deceit, as they were preapproved for booking with promises of instant confirmation upon payment. Furthermore, a seemingly legitimate "portal" offered a 10% discount through a Genius loyalty program. Believing all was well, Emma's mother, Julia, paid $5,218 for the villas, with Emma covering the $2,200 flight costs on Ryanair.

Interior of Airbnb | Pexels | Photo by John Tekeridis
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by John Tekeridis

Concerns grew as the departure date approached and the hotel remained unresponsive to check-in queries. Emma, however, decided to proceed with the flight, hoping to secure alternative accommodation on arrival. It wasn't until hours before departure that her mother revealed the devastating truth – they had fallen victim to scammers who created a fake website, "Travel Villas," using information from a legitimate travel agency, Oliver's Travels.

Realizing the extent of the scam, the family canceled their trip. "I felt stupid. We started telling the children that we weren’t going, which was awful because they had their suitcases packed and they were all excited. It just disappoints you that there are people like that in the world," Emma said.

While Barclays managed to refund the $5,218 for the villas, the family lost over $2,000 on flights. Upon being informed, Airbnb immediately removed the fraudulent listing and extended support to the family.

Airbnb Pexles | By cottonbro studio
Image Source: Airbnb | Pexles | By Cottonbro Studio

In a similar incident involving Airbnb accommodations, an $8.5 million double-booking and bait-and-switch scheme allegedly defrauded over 10,000 reservations and discriminated against renters, particularly targeting Black individuals. The scam involved double-booking properties on Airbnb and Vrbo, employing last-minute excuses, such as plumbing issues, to cancel or relocate guests.

"We encourage and remind users to stay on Airbnb to communicate, book, and pay to help ensure they’re protected by our policies, processes, and 24/7 support, including AirCover," an Airbnb spokesperson advised.