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Airbnb Scammer Who Allegedly Made Millions on Fake Listings Arrested

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

An Airbnb host accused of making millions by posting fake bookings across the country on short-term rental sites was arrested and charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, according to an indictment filed last Thursday in Florida district court.

Prosecutors say Shray Goel — who described himself as a real estate visionary on his website — and those who worked for him made $7 million on Airbnb and $1.5 million on Vrbo by scamming people who booked one of his hundreds of listings, according to the indictment which was first reported on by the newsletter Court Watch.

The “double-booking-bait-and-switch scheme” occurred between January 2018 and November 2019, according to the indictment. The complaint said Goel and associates would purposely double-book guests and then invent “fake last-minute excuses for canceling overbooked guests or tricking them into switching to inferior replacements.”

The indictment said over 100 properties in the scheme were listed in several states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Colorado, and Texas, among others.

Goel and his associates would flat-out cancel stays for some guests and keep the fees they collected, according to the indictment, or they would lie to the rental platform to avoid issuing a refund to a guest. Sometimes, they would encourage guests to stay at alternative properties they offered as a false upgrade and keep the money when guests complained, the indictment said.

When Airbnb customer service got involved, Goel would “pressure, threaten, and insult” representatives on the phone to get his way, prosecutors said. And if customers left negative feedback, Goel and those working with him would retaliate by leaving negative reviews about guests or re-listing the property so the unfavorable reviews would disappear, according to the indictment.

The indictment said that in some instances, Goel and others working with him listed properties for rent that didn’t even exist.

Goel and his associates also used aliases, sometimes pretending to be real people by using their identities and documentation, “to conceal their own identities, to double-book properties, to hide negative reviews by de-listing and re-listing properties, to protect against properties being removed from the rental platforms (by having properties listed through multiple hosts), and to continue to list properties after they had been banned from Vrbo in 2015 because of repeated host cancellations and guest complaints.”

Many of the fake host accounts were pretending to be couples, according to the indictment, with names like “Alex & Brittany” and “Jess and Tyler.”

Goel did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Business Insider.

In a long social media post on Wednesday, Goel appeared to reference his ongoing legal troubles without mentioning any specifics about the case. He also appeared to deny the reports on the matter.

“The story that’s unfolding about me right now is complex, and I know it’s stirred up a lot of different feelings,” he wrote on X. “While it’s easy to get caught up in a media narrative – I hope you give me the opportunity to share my perspective once the legal process concludes.”

Goel’s was first named in a 2019 Vice article by journalist Allie Conti, who said she also fell victim to an Airbnb scam orchestrated by Goel and his associates.

The article resulted in sweeping changes at Airbnb in 2019, Vice reported, which included verifying 7 million listings on the platform and implementing a rebooking and refunding system for guests unsatisfied with their stays. The accounts identified as being part of the scheme were also removed.

“Airbnb 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,” Airbnb told Business Insider in a statement regarding the charges.

Vrbo did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Business Insider.

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