Airbnb ‘scammer’ arrested for $7.5m theft scheme

An alleged Airbnb scammer who has been accused of receiving around $7 million by “tricking” customers is facing charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Shray Goel and others he worked with allegedly used different identities to double-book properties and refuse refunds to customers around January 2018 to November 2019, according to a warrant for Mr Goel’s arrest obtained by The Independent.

The scheme stretched over nearly 100 properties in different states across the US and made more than 10,000 reservations on Airbnb, which earned him an alleged $7 million.

Prosecutors describe Mr Goel as operating a “double-booking-bait-and-switch” where he and others involved with him and at his direction would “secretly double-booking properties and then inventing fake last-minute excuses for cancelling overbooked guests or tricking them into switching to inferior replacements.”

Mr Goel would allegedly choose amongst all the customers, often giving it to the “highest bidder”, and would then refuse any refunds to guests who were entitled to them.

Prosecutors also detail that Goel would hide negative reviews by de-listing and re-listing the properties and would also post misleading positive reviews.

His alleged scheme was performed using “false and misleading” identities of the hosts, the addresses of the properties, as well as their availability.

He is also accused of falsely telling the rental platforms the guest had stayed in the property, which usually forfeits the guest’s entitlement to a full refund, per Airbnb’s policies.

Mr Goel was investigated by Vice back in 2019, which sought to uncover the scam after one of the writers was suspiciously told that the property was flooded with water and would be moved to another one.

Allie Conti, the writer of the investigation, said she had interacted with hosts named “Becky and Andrew” and was only refunded $399 out of the $1,221 she paid.

After the Vice report went viral, Ms Conti was contacted by the FBI, and Airbnb even vowed to verify all their property listings a week after the investigation was published.

A warrant for Mr Goel’s arrest was filed on 28 December; he was arrested and later released on bond, Fox News reports.

The prosecutors are accusing him of “knowingly and with intent to defraud, devised, participated in, and executed a scheme to defraud” the rental platforms and guests trying to book the properties.

On 30 December, Vice reported that Mr Goel posted a now-deleted message on X saying, “Yesterday was an incredibly tough day for me.  While I can’t publicly speak about the circumstances—I was heading to my condo, feeling sorry for myself.”

Airbnb said in a statement to The Daily Beast that their company” is built on trust, and bad actors have no place in our community. We supported the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI throughout their investigation to help ensure accountability, and we are thankful to them for their work.”

The Independent tried contacting Mr Goel through his website, but the message was undeliverable.

The Independent has also contacted Airbnb for comment.