Singapore PR’s Airbnb $52,000 Paris Apartment Scam Was Due To Phishing Website Which Looked Legit

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Phishing Website With “Live-Chat Service” Conned Woman In Airbnb’s Recent $52k Paris Apartment Scam

Teach a man to phish, and he’ll scam you for an entire lifetime.

Booking her dream apartment for a 7-month pastry-making course in Paris turned into a living nightmare when Ms April Cho got embroiled in an Airbnb phishing scam that cost her S$51,600.

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The site apparently looked so legit that it even had its own “live-chat service”.

Here’s how Ms Cho and her husband were tricked into paying a ridiculous amount of money for an apartment which did not exist.

Fraudulent website even featured “live-chat service”

After enrolling in Le Cordon Bleu’s prestigious baking course worth $36,600, Ms Cho had found the perfect Airbnb apartment for her and husband to stay in, just 10 minutes away from her school.

According to The Straits Times, Ms Cho sent a message to the “host” of the fateful Airbnb listing in October. Little did she know that it was just the beginning for a whole host of problems.

She was then told to send an email so she could sign a rental agreement as part of the necessary documentation. Ms Cho did not suspect anything as she had heard that France was “quite bureaucratic”, assuming that it was part of a natural procedure.

The “host” then emailed a link for her to make payment, which led to a site that looked exactly like the official Airbnb page. A “live-chat service” was even available, lending to the authenticity of the phishing site.

Convinced the site was legitimate, Ms Cho’s husband transferred $51,600 through DBS bank to a Polish account named “Airbnb Euro Trans” as per the instructions in the email received.

The couple then assumed that their booking was completed.

However, when multiple attempts to contact their “host” failed, Ms Cho realised to her horror that the apartment they had paid for did not actually exist.

AirBye and Bye

The couple alleged that the anti-fraud messages which usually warned Airbnb users that they were leaving the official site did not pop up during their booking process.

Ms Cho has already lodged a police report, but has not received any notice from DBS Bank or Airbnb regarding a refund. The original listing that they fell victim to has also been removed from Airbnb.

Incensed at the helplessness she feels in retrieving the scammed amount, Ms Cho has stated that “she will not use Airbnb again” after this incident.

She also wanted to share her story so others will not experience the same thing as her.

Online reactions are mixed as some question her naivety at paying 7 months of rent upfront for an apartment. Others also pointed out that it is hard to distinguish fake websites due to the prevalence of professional looking spoof websites online.

Airbnb’s spokeman has clarified that fraudulent listings are condemned by the Airbnb community and that they remain committed to educating users to “stay safe online”.

So how can we avoid being in the same situation as Ms Cho?

Sophisticated spoofs

Understanding the methods that scammers use to make spoof websites could help in preventing such scams. Spoof websites are considered a form of phishing websites — web structures built solely with the purpose of misdirection for financial gain, or theft of personal data.

You probably won’t even know that you’re accessing a spoof website because there are ways to prevent you from finding out.

Currently, the two most common methods used are URL cloaking and domain forwarding.

URL cloaking involves making the url of the fake website you are visiting look like the real deal. Domain forwarding refers to the masking of visitors from seeing the actual domain accessed on their web browsers.

Users of online sharing services such as Airbnb should thus look out for discrepancies in logos, text and visual designs on-site. Just in case the site you’re accessing is actually a sophisticated imitation.

Experts also recommend vigilance when dealing with large sums of money online. Do not ever entertain instructions, via private emails or chat messaging apps outside of the service, to perform financial transactions.

Too good to be true

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Although we all love a good bargain, Ms Cho’s experience is a good reminder that if a deal is too good to be true, it’s probably not for you.

If you come across fraudulent listings on Airbnb or messages which direct you off-site, do report them immediately by flagging them through the grey flag icon as follows:

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You can also contact Airbnb directly to report suspicious behaviour encountered during your booking process from your hosts or guests.

By staying vigilant online, let’s try to catch the phish before paying the price.

Featured image from Vulcan Post.

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