A lettings scam that operates via Airbnb and involves bogus letting agents has been uncovered.
It is a variation on the one that has been going for some time where rogues often use Gumtree to advertise rental properties and persuade would-be tenants to pay deposits.
In the Airbnb fraud, an owner of a London flat in Kensington Gardens Square let it out for the weekend through the site.
Unknowingly, she had let it out to a couple who then advertised the property as a house share on the website SpareRoom.
The pair, who said they were called Bartolomiejj and Vlad Malesa, created a fake letting agency with an address in Sloane Square.
During the weekend, they used the key to show prospective tenants around and take deposits off them.
The tenants were taken in by the letting agency’s apparent credentials, and by the fact that they were given genuine Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements.
The owner then returned to find five ‘tenants’ expecting to move in and who had paid out £8,500 in deposits between them.
The sting in the tail is that the owner should probably not have let her flat out for the weekend at all.
Kensington Gardens Square is in Westminster, one of the London councils vehemently opposed to a proposed relaxation in current rules operating across London which forbid short-term lets of under six months unless owners apply for planning permission first.
The Airbnb scam may be newly arrived in the UK, but is similar to dozens of similar frauds.
On the NFoPP website, over 60 websites are listed as having been reported to the crime authority Action Fraud.
NFoPP says that rental fraud often targets students. Victims pay upfront fees for properties which do not exist or which are not available.
Here’s how The Guardian reported the Kensington Gardens Square story:
In the US, a variety of scams to do with Airbnb have been reported, and in New York all-out war has been declared with the Mayor, campaigners, politicians, estate agents and hoteliers saying it is a charter for rogue landlords and illegal hotels.
There are thought to be 16,000 Airbnb units in New York. In London, Airbnb says it has some 1,500 rentals available.