Airbnb Fraudster Allegedly Made Millions From Double Booking Properties, Denying Refunds

A Los Angeles man has been accused of defrauding customers of millions of dollars in a fraudulent rental property scheme. According to an arrest warrant and indictment filed last week, Shray Goel double-booked customers at over 100 properties across the country, including some that didn't even exist, and then denied them refunds.

Court Watch reports that Goel allegedly took 10,000 reservations through Airbnb, Vrbo, and other rental platforms in 2018 and 2019, amassing a total of $7 million through what court documents describe as a “double-booking-bait-and-switch scheme.” The ruse reportedly involved Goel or his associates assigning one property to multiple renters at a time by using “fake host accounts.” Often, parties were informed that their rental was unavailable within minutes of their scheduled arrival.

Goel would then convince the double-booked party to accept accommodations at “inferior replacements.” But instead of refunding the difference in rental value, he then allegedly concocted “false excuse[s]” to explain why he couldn’t return their money. Goel is accused of reporting false information to the rental platforms to avoid paying penalties or cancellation fees to his customers.

The indictment states that some of the supposed rental properties corresponded to “addresses that had no residential structure, were unaffiliated with the co-schemers, or did not exist at all." In some cases, Goel and his associates were said to have simply stopped replying to the double-booked customers, keeping their cash, and leaving them without a place to stay.

Furthermore, the claims state that numerous profiles were made in order to leave false positive reviews on their properties, or to wipe negative reviews from the record. Many of these accounts were set up using fake names and documentation belonging to people unaffiliated with the account.

While an arrest warrant was just issued on December 28, Goel’s alleged deception has been public knowledge for some time now. Goel was banned from Vrbo all the way back in 2015 after making $1.5 million on the platform. He was also named in a 2019 VICE investigation that spotlighted the scheme.

Men’s Journal attempted to reach Goel for comment, but the contact information listed on his website is no longer active.

In a statement to People, Airbnb vowed to take swift action on any renter who tried to abuse their platform. “Airbnb is built on trust, and bad actors have no place in our community," the statement reads. "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."

“We have taken multiple steps to strengthen our defenses against deceptive behavior, including measures like identity and listing verification which we believe will help further deter already rare instances of this type of activity,” the company adds.

The criminal filing is the opposite of a recent scenario in which an Airbnb renter was trapped with a nightmare tenant who refused to leave for over a year.