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"We work hard to educate the public on the dangers of these malicious, third-party (web)sites and we appreciate that AARP is doing the same."
The sun-soaked, seaside resort boasts million-dollar views, lush palm trees and plush sun loungers around a cerulean blue pool.
"Scams, fraud and impersonation have grown significantly. We see spikes in different industries since the pandemic started, in fake websites, fake social-media pages and posts. It's definitely something that has increased a lot."
But looks deceive. The photo appears on Airbnb24hours.com, a website the real Airbnb says is fake.
Beckoning sun lovers, the phony site urges: “Make your stay fantastic. Luxury living spaces for your next adventure!"
After a cybersecurity firm alerted AARP to the impostor site, it sought comment from Airbnb officials, who acknowledged this week that the website was bogus and said: “Unfortunately, scam artists sometimes use the public's trust in our brand to try to commit fraud.”
Deception is the goal
Ben Breit, Airbnb's global trust communications lead, went on to say that the firm partners with vendors to monitor fake sites and act against the “bad actors who seek to dupe consumers into thinking they're transacting with Airbnb.” He declined, however, to say how many sham sites had been detected.
Today if you visit Airbnb24hours.com — and we don't recommend it — first you likely will see an online warning: “Deceptive site ahead. Attackers on airbnb24hours.com may trick you into doing something dangerous.” The specified dangers include installing software on your device or wresting passwords or credit card numbers from you.
Online fakery abounds
Countless companies have been forced to fight fake sites as well as bogus emails, mobile apps, social-media posts, special offers and coupons.
Begun in 2008 in San Francisco, Airbnb has more than 4 million hosts and 5.6 million listings, Breit says, and its revenue comes from charging property owners and guests a fee for its booking services.
On its website, the company cautions consumers about scams and says some arise in fraudulent emails sent from addresses ending in @bnb.com or @reservation-airbnb.com. The fake emails may have links to web pages that masquerade as Airbnb, and the company advises against clicking on any suspicious links.
AARP learned about Airbnb24hours.com from BrandShield, a firm that is headquartered in Israel and hunts down online threats for companies such as Levi's and New Balance. The cybersecurity firm also provided AARP with another impostor site for Airbnb and a phony Airbnb coupon, both of which the firm confirmed were fraudulent.
BrandShield CEO Yoav Keren, 49, says his firm does not work for Airbnb but has other travel industry clients. Fraudsters, he says, have been deceiving consumers on Twitter and Instagram by pretending they are airline agents or creating fake listings for airline and booking sites.
Pandemic fuels e-commerce
Keren believes cybercrime has risen since the pandemic spurred more reliance on e-commerce. In the U.S., online retail sales stood at $791.7 billion in 2020, or 14 percent of all retail sales, according to a United Nations estimate last May. That's up from 11 percent in 2019 and 9.9 percent in 2018.
Amid the growth, Keren says, “cybercriminals are just booming at the same level."