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Airbnb Host Faces Charges in Alleged $8.5 Million Nationwide Scam

Those who worked for the scammer made $7 million on Airbnb and $1.5 million on Vrbo through the fraudulent scheme.
Cover Image Source: Airbnb | Pexels | By cottonbro studio
Cover Image Source: Airbnb | Pexels | By cottonbro studio

In a jaw-dropping revelation that has sent shockwaves through the hospitality industry, Shray Goel, who describes himself as a "visionary in real estate," is now at the center of a legal scandal. Indicted on December 28, 2023, in California, he now faces serious charges of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and criminal forfeiture. The allegations point toward a nationwide scam, in which Goel systematically double-booked guests across his vast portfolio of over 100 properties. He allegedly amassed $8.5 million through deceptive practices on various rental platforms in 2018 and 2019 alone. 

Image Source: Photo by Chesnot | Getty Images
Image Source: Photo by Chesnot | Getty Images

The grand jury's indictment sheds light on the intricate details of Goel's alleged scam, a plot that is said to have begun in 2018. The modus operandi involved canceling the lower-priced reservation at the eleventh hour, fabricating excuses ranging from plumbing issues to substandard living conditions. This manipulation not only maximized his profits but also left guests grappling with frustration and dissatisfaction. Furthermore, he exploited Airbnb's policies, preventing guests from receiving full refunds if they opted not to endure the less-than-ideal accommodations.

Goel's tactics were as complex as they were deceptive. The creation of separate listings for the same property allowed him to exploit unsuspecting guests. By systematically canceling lower-priced reservations and providing other alternatives, he created a dual-sided scheme that not only deceived guests but also highlighted systemic vulnerabilities in the short-term rental industry. There were instances where he and his associates berated and threatened customer service representatives to deny guests the refunds they were rightfully entitled to.

Image Source: Photo by Carl Court | Getty Images
Image Source: Photo by Carl Court | Getty Images

Central to Goel's scheme was the creation of fake host accounts, a web of deceit that involved portraying these accounts as couples with seemingly innocuous names like "Alex & Brittany" or "Becky & Andrew." To further complicate matters, stock images were employed as profile pictures, according to the indictment.

He also manipulated the visibility of negative reviews by delisting and relisting apartments. Concurrently, he used these fabricated accounts to write positive reviews for his other fake identities, further perpetuating the facade. The indictment further stated that over 100 properties in the scheme were listed in several states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Colorado, and Texas, among others.

Journalist Allie Conti's extensive investigation in 2019 exposed Goel's scheme when she found herself double-booked at one of his Chicago properties, leading to a suspicious last-minute cancellation. The FBI reached out to Conti just days after the article was published.

Image Source: Photo by Chesnot | Getty Images
Image Source: Photo by Chesnot | Getty Images

If the allegations against Goel prove true and he is convicted, he could face severe legal consequences, including the potential forfeiture of all his properties. "The story that's unfolding about me right now is complex, and I know it's stirred up a lot of different feelings," Goel wrote on X. "While it's easy to get caught up in a media narrative - I hope you give me the opportunity to share my perspective once the legal process concludes."

In a statement to Business Insider regarding the charges, Airbnb said, "Airbnb is built on trust, and bad actors have no place in our community. We supported the US Attorney's Office and the FBI throughout their investigation to help ensure accountability, and we are thankful to them for their work."