Southampton Condo Owner Learns Scammers Listed It on Airbnb - 27 East

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Southampton Condo Owner Learns Scammers Listed It on Airbnb

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A Southampton condo owner discovered scammers had listed his unit for rent on Airbnb.

A Southampton condo owner discovered scammers had listed his unit for rent on Airbnb.

Brendan J. O’Reilly on Mar 16, 2023

After Richard Cabot listed his Southampton Village condo for sale, inquiries started pouring in to his real estate agent and property manager — not from homebuyers who wished to purchase it but from Airbnb users who wanted to rent it.

It turned out that a scam artist had copied the photos and description from the real estate listing and created an Airbnb listing for Cabot’s unit at the Polo Club Condominium. Some of the Airbnb users were suspicious of the listing, which appeared too good to be true, but at least two victims sent the scammer money before learning that the listing was fraudulent.

“I’ve been in touch with Airbnb, and they really don’t care, it seems,” Cabot said during an interview this month.

He explained that he first learned his condo was listed on Airbnb without his permission after the Polo Club Condominium property manager received a couple of calls from people who said they had booked rentals for a couple of days or a week.

“We called Airbnb, and they were totally useless,” Cabot said. “They had no desire to help us.”

He said that, between himself and the property manager, they must have called Airbnb two dozen times. “They say, ‘Well, what’s the listing number?’” he recalled. “Who the hell knows the listing number? We didn’t list it at all.”

Cabot was able to get the listing number from one of the people who had called his property manager, and he went online and saw the fake listing himself. “In the listing, it had pictures of the house and everything, and it really scared me, because anybody moves in, you can’t get them out nowadays,” he said. “I called back Airbnb, and they were still uncooperative.”

He is alarmed that Airbnb did not verify who owned the property before allowing someone to list it for rent.

“At least, if you’re going to list something, show that you own the damn thing — show a driver’s license, show something,” Cabot said. “I would think they just asked for nothing at all. They just want to get the listing and they want their commission, and they don’t care if there’s nothing there at all.” He added, “There should be a law against this.”

One way potential renters caught on to the scam was the price: It was listed for less than a short-term summer rental at a four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bathroom townhouse in Southampton would ever go for.

Cabot’s real estate agent, Holly Hodder of Sotheby’s International Realty, said she began receiving calls from people who asked her to validate whether the property was actually available for rent through Airbnb.

“I must have received at least a half dozen calls,” Hodder said. “Off the top of my head, two people actually had already transferred money. So I told every single person who called us that under no circumstances is the property offered for rent in any way, shape or form. It is only offered for sale. It is a completely fake listing.

“We were basically robbed of our photographs and our description and everything else associated with the Sotheby’s listing, which we have a contract for with Richard — he’s our client — and somebody just decided to take it,” she continued.

Hodder tried calling the phone number of the “host” associated with the listing. “I left a fairly strenuous message, saying: ‘What you’re doing is illegal. This is our listing. We are the proprietors of this listing. You have stolen our photographs and our data. You need to take it down,’” she said.

She also told any would-be renters who called her to alert Airbnb that it was a scam listing. She noted that she does not have an Airbnb account, so she could not go on the website and log a complaint herself, and she doesn’t know how much the rental rate was. However, she knows it was low enough to raise suspicions, which led to Airbnb users finding the Sotheby’s listing and calling her. “They were being a bit intrepid and self-directed,” she said.

She said they told her, “This looks too good to be true,” and she told them, “You’re absolutely right.”

This is the first time Hodder has personally encountered such a scam, but she has heard from other real estate agents who have had it happen to their listings. “This is a topic that has come up in our office meetings,” she said.

Asked to respond to Cabot’s complaint, an Airbnb spokesperson said: “This listing was suspended back in mid-February and has since been removed. We do not tolerate fake listings, which have no place in our community.”

Fake rental scams take on many forms, and they are not limited to short-term rental marketplaces such as Airbnb and Vrbo. The classifieds website Craigslist is notorious for such scams, and websites specializing in year-round rentals but with little to no screening of who is creating listings also have accepted fake listings. It’s been a problem for years on the East End and nationally, but during the height of the pandemic, when many New Yorkers sought refuge on the South Fork and were willing to book a summer rental sight unseen, scams proliferated.

In May 2022, New York Attorney General Letitia James offered a warning to New Yorkers as well as tips to avoid falling victim.

Among the attorney general’s tips were to verify that the host has a valid address and phone number, make sure the listing has reviews and read them with an eye out for fakes, do a reverse image search to determine if listing photos have been stolen from another website, and communicate only through the listing site before booking.

Scammers often ask rental seekers to communicate directly, off the listing service’s official channels. They may ask for cash, money order or wire transfer, rather than making payments via credit card or debit card — which can be traced — through the listing website, according to the attorney general’s office.

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