A hen’s party of 20 women was almost left without a venue after a scam on Airbnb involving a house that didn’t exist.
Auckland woman Renee Carroll only realised she had been scammed an hour before guests were due to arrive for the weekend of celebrations on February 3.
Carroll booked what she thought was a character four-bedroom villa in Auckland for the High Tea party.
The house – a sunny and inviting four-bedroom villa – was booked and paid for through the legitimate Airbnb site and Carroll was sent an address by the host “Paul”.
But when she arrived at the address to collect the keys she realised she had been conned.
“I turned up to collect the keys and I was looking for 28 Kipling Ave in Epsom,” Carroll said.
“I saw 24 then 26… then it was the end of the road and I started to get that feeling and I was like uh-oh here we go.”
The charming house with an all-weather deck was not at the address Carroll was sent – but rather taken from a real estate listing of a home recently sold on the North Shore.
Scammers had fraudulently used photos of a house that had just sold in Rothesay Bay.
A photo of the unsuspecting real estate agent who sold the home was used as the “host”.
With a car laden with food for the guests en route, Carroll made a panicked call to her Airbnb host “Paul”.
“I tried ringing the host number and it came up ‘verified number Cambodia’ – of course it didn’t connect.”
Carroll immediately called Airbnb staff who questioned if she was “at the right house” before offering alternative accommodation and then a full refund.
Despite getting the $436 paid for the night’s stay back Carroll wanted to warn other Airbnb customers to be cautious – even when booking and paying through the site.
The “new” listing did not have any reviews – something Carroll said will be essential if she books through the site again.
“To book through Airbnb they make you send all this information like your driver’s licence, so you would think they would verify the host address.
“I was on the side of the road with a car full of food with 20 people turning up.”
After calling various venues Carroll “had a meltdown moment” and was crying on the side of the road before a friend’s father came to the rescue and offered his house as the venue.
“I was so upset because I had everything planned, the photos look great, it had an undercover deck, everything looked lovely, it was perfect.
“It just didn’t exist.”
And Carroll wasn’t the only person caught up in the scam.
A photo of Auckland-based Iron Bridge real estate agent Paul Foster was used in the listing as were photos of the house – one he recently sold for $1.23m on Hyde Road,
“Wow – I had absolutely no idea – it’s a real shock,” Foster said when told of the scam.
“I just feel for the person who was scammed – that is terrible.”
Carroll is only one of several New Zealanders who’ve lost substantial amounts of money through scams on Airbnb – most lure victims through the popular booking website but then get guests to veer from the usual payment system.
In January a couple lost $5000 and had nowhere to spend New Year’s Eve after their holiday accommodation turned out to be fake. Another family visiting Auckland lost $17,000 when they arrived at the Takapuna home they had rented to find the listing was fake.
Michaela Scarrott, who lost $4800 to a host who uploaded photos of a property they didn’t own on to Airbnb, said she was ‘appalled’ to learn hosts don’t need to provide any proof of ownership or tenancy to list a property on the site.
In order to book or host, a person must provide their full name, date of birth, photo ID, a phone number, payment information, and email address.
An Airbnb spokesman said fake listings were rare and the company would always protect users who paid through the Airbnb platform.
“There have been more than 260 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date and negative incidents, including fake listings, are extremely rare,” the spokesman said.
“The guest received a full refund and we have permanently banned the bad actor from our platform. As long as you keep your communication and payment on the Airbnb platform, you can rest assured you will always be protected.”
Despite the unfortunate start to the weekend Carroll said the party went off without any further drama.
“The evening was great. We had some entertainment booked so I had to pay for the extra travel time but my friend was none the wiser.”
“I am lucky another friend’s dad made his house available at such short notice.”