Friday 14 December 2018

'It’s a nightmare' - Irish couple warn of bogus apartment listing after being scammed out of €2k

A number of unavailable apartments are being advertised on rental websites
A number of unavailable apartments are being advertised on rental websites
(Stock picture)

Rachel Farrell

An Irish couple that were duped into handing over €2,046 this month to a false landlord have described the situation as a "nightmare".

Brian (39) and his partner Rory (40) had been living in an apartment in Dublin city centre for eight years when they found themselves looking for somewhere new to live.

The couple claim that they came across a listing on Daft.ie for an apartment on Westland Square, off Pearse Street in Dublin, for €1,000 a month. 

After contacting the alleged landlord, who claims to be a 'deputy manager' with Aer Lingus living in Switzerland, the couple were told to transfer the first month's rent and deposit through Airbnb.

"Because the owner said he wasn’t in the country, he told us to pay through Airbnb as it was more secure," Brian told Independent.ie.

"We used my partner’s Airbnb account and we’d never had any problems before."

Using a link provided by the seller, the couple transferred €1,000 for the first month’s rent, €1,000 for the deposit and €46 booking fee to the seller.

"After making the booking we received a reference number from what looked like an Airbnb email account, but we now believe it was a fake link as the site appears to be hacked," Brian said.

"It turns out the bank account we transferred to was located in Germany and the booking was fraudulent."

An email from the seller said they would come to visit the couple after their first month living in the property.

An email received by the couple in July from the seller about the return of the money
An email received by the couple in July from the seller about the return of the money

"I listed the apartment to Airbnb now you can book it from 01 August to 01 September. After this month, I will come to know you personally, I hope you understand me and agree with that, because also for us it is the first time when we rented without personally see the new tenant," the email said.

After doing some research online, the couple discovered that the alleged seller had listed multiple properties on various rental sites. The property in question was traced back to the original listing on a verified letting agent’s website.

The alleged false listing has since been removed from Daft.ie and Rent.ie.

Brian explained that the seller continued to contact them through email after the booking was made and said the money would be returned to them after Brian became suspicious.

Emails seen by Independent.ie show the seller claiming that the Airbnb money would be returned for them to transfer into his bank account instead.

"We felt very stupid in hindsight, but at the time we thought that we had to move. The pictures looked legit, the photos were nice, and we stupidly jumped at it," the couple said.

After further research, Independent.ie discovered that the same email scam has been going around as far back as July last year, using various names.

Another reader who contacted Independent.ie said they had fallen victim to the same advertisement as Brian, for a property also advertised on Pearse Street.

The man sent money over to the alleged landlord before realising the Airbnb link was fake. Receipts from the page show reviews from alleged holiday-makers who have stayed in the venue, praising the owner's hospitality.

The scammer appears to use the same story, that he is a 'general manager' at Aer Lingus living in Switzerland and wants someone to "look after" his apartment while he is away.

A spokesperson for Aer Lingus confirmed that the 'deputy manager' role does not exist.

"We can confirm that there is no such role as 'deputy manager' at Aer Lingus," a spokesperson told Independent.ie.

An example of the email sent by the scammer to lure house hunters into transferring over the money. Photo: Reddit.
An example of the email sent by the scammer to lure house hunters into transferring over the money. Photo: Reddit.

The person then uses a fake Airbnb link to retrieve the money from house hunters, with bank accounts registered outside Ireland. The seller is believed to have gone under different names over the past year.

In May, a Reddit user warned against a house listing by a seller with a similar email to the one the couple received this month.

Another user claimed they received the same email in July 2017.

Brian wants the lesson learned to become a warning for those seeking a place to live in Dublin, particularly as students begin to look for rooms to rent this season.

"I’m a working adult and I couldn’t afford it, how could a student? It’s a nightmare," Brian said.

"It’s worrying - how many times has this person done this and succeeded?"

Brian claims a report was filed with Gardai and, although their bank was contacted, they have yet to receive the money back.

"Because we paid with a debit card, the bank couldn’t stop the payment. We’re 99pc sure that the money has already been withdrawn from the German bank account, unless by some miracle it’s still there," he said.

Daft.ie recommend that house hunters "be vigilant" when interacting with 'long-distance landlords' and to treat 'sob stories' with caution.

"Be vigilant if the user you are interacting with appears to be in a foreign country and claims to be interested in renting out or buying a home," they said on their website.

"Users who impart details of familial or financial issues need to be treated with caution, especially if such information is imparted as a reason to not personally meet you or to acquire money."

An Airbnb spokesperson told Independent.ie: "This website has nothing to do with Airbnb. Airbnb provides a secure platform for people to find, book and list unique accommodation around the world.

"Airbnb protects hosts and guests by handling all payment and communications through our secure platform - it’s one of the reasons that so many people book through Airbnb.

"We encourage users to report fake emails or websites to our Trust and Safety team on report.phishing@airbnb.com, who will investigate. 

"We work closely with external partners to help report fake websites and have them removed."

 

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