Woman in Singapore books Airbnb stay in Paris for $52K - but it turns out to be a sham

After a spate on a cover-up on a cybersecurity failure in 2016 and fraudulent charges Uber has faced recently, another app riding on the sharing economy model is also in the soup for similar issues.

41-year-old Ms April Cho is a housewife who wants to own a cafe of her own, so she signed up for a seven-month pastry-making course at the esteemed culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris.

Now, she just needs a place to stay and like almost every other traveller, she turned to the home-sharing site, Airbnb, to rent her home for the seven months she'll be there with her husband.

The couple later found out that it was a scam that cost them €32,154 (S$51,600).

Looked 'Legit'

According to sources, Ms Cho and her husband had probably received an email from the listing they saw on Airbnb and was directed to another website that looked identical to the genuine Airbnb website.

They had "interacted with a 'live-chat service'" and then wired their money from DBS Bank directly to a specific source called, "Airbnb Euro Trans" in Poland.

She had assumed that this was a "natural" procedure because France was "quite bureaucratic".

It was only after they checked on the real Airbnb website and multiple contacts they made to the "host" failed, that they found out the apartment they had paid for did not exist.

The couple did not see any messages that warn users from leaving the site which is one of the features implemented against scammers.

They have lodged a police report and contacted DBS but they have not gotten any money back. The fake listing that was involved has also been removed from Airbnb.

A spokesman from Airbnb said that they condemn such listings, explaining that they have recently released information to the community "about staying safe online".

Home Bitter Home

This all happened in the month of November.

Now Ms Cho, who is a Singapore permanent resident originally from South Korea, is living in an apartment 10 minutes away from the school.

She pays €3,255 (S$5,230) a month for this, and a €1,500 (S$2,400) agent fee - which she had tried to avoid by booking her accommodation on Airbnb.

Her course at Le Cordon Bleu, worth about S$36,600, began on 20 November.

Ms Cho told sources that "she will not use Airbnb again" moving forward, and wanted to share her story so others are aware and will not end up in the same plight as her.

The couple is not the only ones who have been scammed on Airbnb.

Several users from the United States and Britain have also been cheated by scammers who use similar tricks such as the one in Ms Cho's case.

There are netizens who blame Ms Cho for what had happened to her.

Photo: Facebook screengrab

One of them has empathised saying that it isn't as easy as it looks to point out a scammer or a fraudulent site.

Photo: Facebook screengrab

Executive Director of the Consumers Association of Singapore, Mr Loy York Jiun said that both the consumer and Airbnb have a shared responsibility in ensuring that users do not get scammed and there should be stronger reminders on transacting with host only on the platform.

Here are some tips on ensuring that the listing you are browsing is the real deal. Airbnb also has tips on what you should do if you meet a fishy host on its site, read it here.

Stay vigilant, fellow travellers.

This article was first published on Vulcan Post.