PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Airbnb hosts in Oregon are warning of a new scam happening on one of the most popular vacation websites saying that some guests could be using Airbnb and taking advantage of first-time homebuyers.
“I never realized that there could be any fraud scheme that would represent a home for sale,” said Melissa, a new host on Airbnb who is renting her home in Northeast Portland to travelers.
“I received a Facebook message request from a Good Samaritan in Happy Valley,” Melissa said. “Her name is Kellie, and she let me know that she saw that my home was listed for sale.”
Melissa searched her home address and found out it was listed on the site For Sale By Owner for half of what her house is really worth, available in cash to first-time homebuyers only.
“I got really scared because I had no idea who had posted it,” Melissa said.
Luckily, the woman who manages the property for Melissa noticed that something fishy was up with the most recent Airbnb guest.
“When she showed up, she didn’t have any luggage, went into the property, was in there for a very short period of time, and then people started to show up and walked into the home,” said the property manager.
Then Melissa checked the surveillance footage for herself, only to find out that the “guest” was impersonating a real estate agent.
“I saw the guest had checked in at 3:03 p.m. and then shortly after, there was a really nice family that came to the home at 3:44 p.m. and when I listened to the audio, I realized that the guest was impersonating a realtor, a real estate agent and that the family was there to view the home,” said Melissa.
Home surveillance also captured the Airbnb guest inviting another mother with a baby in to see the home soon after the first family left.
Meanwhile, the same Good Samaritan, Kellie Roth-Sarmiento, who tipped Melissa off to this issue, also connected her with another host, Greg, in Northeast Portland whose Airbnb was fraudulently up for sale too.
“It ironically ended up being with this same fraudster,” Melissa said. “She had booked his home the day after my home, and she showed his home on two different occasions to two separate families. So I would say for hosts, really ensure that you have a ring camera.”
Melissa’s property manager shared that the homes are being listed for ridiculous prices.
“They will put these houses on the market in a very unrealistic price and list them for sale by owner,” the property manager said. “No real estate agents are involved and they are scamming people for money and then they’re gone.”
The fraudsters are preying on vulnerable first-time homebuyers.
“We have to stop the scam artists so that they’re not able to continue scamming people for cash who are hardworking people,” said the property manager.
KOIN 6 News contacted Airbnb about the situation and their spokesperson said:
“Reports like these are incredibly rare and we have suspended the guest’s account as we continue to investigate.“
The Portland Police Bureau said they’ve received reports of variations of scams like this, but that they’re not aware of it being widespread at this time.
CrimeDex, which is an info-sharing site PPB uses, had one recent posting of a group out of NYC doing the Airbnb fake listings and operating in multiple states.
The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network reports 183 complaints within the last year related to “Airbnb” and “business imposters.” However, not all of them are the same scam, roughly half are similar to these cases in Northeast Portland.
Police said they’ve seen related scams in the Portland metro area on Craigslist with duplicate listings and someone comes in with a lower price in order to collect the deposit or application fee.
For new homebuyers, there are a few ways to protect yourself: Make sure to never write a personal check of earnest money to an individual buyer, you’ll always want to use a title company or an agent. When houses are in great condition and listed for well below market value of the surrounding homes, that’s a major red flag.
The local hosts in Northeast Portland suggest that Airbnb hosts be on alert and regularly check online to see if their properties are being posted fraudulently for sale on any sites like For Sale By Owner, Redfin, or Zillow.