A scam converts Airbnb listings into discounted “Home for sale” ads targeting first-time buyers. If a buyer asks to tour the home, the scammer rents it for a day to do so.
PORTLAND, Ore. – Airbnb hosts in Oregon are warning of a new scam, saying that some guests could be using local Airbnb properties to take advantage of first-time homebuyers.
“I never realized that there could be any fraud scheme that would represent a home for sale,” said Melissa, a new host on Airbnb who is renting her home in Northeast Portland to travelers.
“I received a Facebook message request from a good Samaritan in Happy Valley,” Melissa said. “Her name is Kellie, and she let me know that she saw that my home was listed for sale.”
Melissa searched her home address and found out it was listed on the site For Sale By Owner for half of what her house is really worth, available in cash to first-time homebuyers only.
“I got really scared because I had no idea who had posted it,” Melissa said.
Luckily, the woman who manages the property for Melissa noticed that something was fishy with her most recent Airbnb guest.
“When she showed up, she didn’t have any luggage, went into the property, was in there for a very short period of time, and then people started to show up and walked into the home,” said the property manager.
Then Melissa checked the surveillance footage for herself, only to find out that the “guest” was impersonating a real estate agent.
“I saw the guest had checked in at 3:03 p.m. and then shortly after, there was a really nice family that came to the home at 3:44 p.m., and when I listened to the audio, I realized that the guest was impersonating a Realtor, a real estate agent, and that the family was there to view the home,” said Melissa.
Home surveillance also captured the Airbnb guest inviting another mother with a baby inside, presumably for a viewing, soon after the first family left.
Meanwhile, Kellie Roth-Sarmiento, the same good Samaritan who tipped off Melissa to this issue, connected her with another host, Greg, also in Northeast Portland, whose Airbnb was fraudulently up for sale, too.
“It ironically ended up being with this same fraudster,” Melissa said. “She had booked his home the day after my home, and she showed his home on two different occasions to two separate families. So I would say for hosts, really ensure that you have a ring camera.”
Melissa’s property manager said the homes were being listed for ridiculous prices.
“They will put these houses on the market in a very unrealistic price and list them for sale by owner,” the property manager said. “No real estate agents are involved and they are scamming people for money and then they’re gone.”
The fraudsters were also likely preying on vulnerable first-time homebuyers who may not have known anything was amiss.
“We have to stop the scam artists so that they’re not able to continue scamming people for cash who are hardworking people,” said the property manager.
A spokesperson for Airbnb called such scams “rare,” but did confirm the alleged fraudster’s account has been suspended amid an investigation.
The Portland Police Bureau added that they’ve received reports of similar scams, but they’re not aware of such schemes being widespread at this time.
CrimeDex, which is an info-sharing site the Portland Police Department uses, recorded one recent instance of a group from NYC posting fake Airbnb “for sale” listings and operating in multiple states.
The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network reports 183 complaints within the last year related to “Airbnb” and “business imposters.” However, only around half concern a similar scam to the ones reported in Northeast Portland.
New homebuyers concerned about being scammed are urged to protect themselves. Officials urge home-seekers to never write a personal check to an individual buyer, but to rather use a title company or an agent. Also, when houses are in great condition and listed for well below market value of the surrounding homes, that’s a major red flag.
The local hosts in Northeast Portland suggest that Airbnb hosts be on alert and regularly check online to see if their properties are being posted fraudulently for sale on any sites like For Sale By Owner, Redfin or Zillow.
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