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Family loses more than $5K in Airbnb ‘clone’ scam

by Staff

It was a nightmare-bnb experience.

A UK family had to cancel their dream Spanish vacation just hours before departure after losing more than $5,000 in an elaborate Airbnb “clone” scam.

“I felt devastated for my children and my husband,” Emma Last, 48, told PA Real Life of the holiday hornswoggling. “One [of her children] didn’t speak for a day.”

“If they ask you to go off the site and into WhatsApp, don’t do it, if they ask you to pay on a different site, don’t do it,” said Emma Last, 48. Katie N Brand Photography/PA Real Life

The Lancashire resident had planned an eight-night trip to Majorca — one of Spain’s idyllic Balearic Islands — in August 2023 with her husband Zak, 51, Last’s parents and their three children: Scarlette and Henri, both 17, and Xander, 14.

The family had reportedly traveled there last year and enjoyed the trip so much that Last had been “saving up” all year so they could embark on yet another Mediterranean getaway.

Last, who works as a mental health and well-being strategist, started perusing Airbnb in July for villas that would be large enough to accommodate the whole family.

The Brit eventually narrowed their search to three listings, which they diligently vetted on Google Earth to make sure that they indeed existed.

Things took a turn after they clicked on the listings and saw a note informing them that they needed to check WhatsApp to see if their selected dates were available.

“It can happen to anyone,” said Last. Collect/PA Real Life

When Last messaged the number provided, she received a reply from one “Lyda from Travel Villas. Included was a link confirming the property was available for the chosen dates at a discounted rental cost of $655 per night.

“Please send us your email so we can send you the PDF Brochure of the villa with all the details regarding the photos, services, location and terms of the booking,” the message read.

After further correspondence, she was eventually “preapproved to book” with the guarantee that her reservation would be confirmed instantly after they’d received payment.

The message even pledged to reimburse them in full should they cancel the booking within 24 hours. If that wasn’t elaborate enough, a link then redirected Last to an apparent “portal,” where she was offered a 10% discount due to a Genius loyalty program she was a member of.

Last learned it was a scam just hours before departing for her trip. Katie N Brand Photography/PA Real Life

Believing everything was copasetic, the fam decided to pull the trigger on the payment. Emma’s mother Julia shelled out $5,218 for the houses, while Emma covered the flights with Ryanair, which cost around $2,200 in total for the seven guests.

She subsequently received a booking confirmation email and a WhatsApp message declaring that everything was “in order.”

However, they became concerned after “Travel Villas” didn’t reply to her follow-up messages about the check-in process.

After several days of radio silence, Last began to panic.

However, with the departure date fast approaching, Last decided that she’d take a chance and board the flight anyway. She felt that they could book a hotel upon arrival if they couldn’t access the villa.

Then, just hours before departure, her mother called and let her know that they’d been epically duped.

Last said one of her children was so “devastated” they didn’t speak all day. Katie N Brand Photography/PA Real Life

As it turned out, scammers had copied and pasted info and pics from Oliver’s Travels — a legit, London-based travel agency — onto a fake website called “Travel Villas,” and then masqueraded as travel agents to fool them.

“I felt stupid,” lamented Last. “We started telling the children that we weren’t going, which was awful because they had their suitcases packed and they were all excited.”

She added, “It just disappoints you that there are people like that in the world.”

Thankfully, after some finagling with Barclays — whose card she used to book the trip — Last managed to recoup the $5,218 for the villas.

However, she still hasn’t been reimbursed for more than $2,000 for the RyanAir flights.

Meanwhile, Airbnb has since removed the listing and is offering support to the swindled guests.

“We encourage and remind users to stay on Airbnb to communicate, book and pay to help ensure they’re protected by our policies, processes and 24/7 support, including AirCover,” a spokesperson claimed.

The Post reached out to Airbnb for further comment.

Last is now using her fleecing as a cautionary tale about the prevalence and sophistication of internet scams.

“If they ask you to go off the site and into WhatsApp, don’t do it, if they ask you to pay on a different site, don’t do it,” said Last. “I have booked my own travel for years and never had a problem – you do your due diligence – but I suppose it’s just understanding that we are human, and perhaps we need to use more technology to protect us.”

She added, “You feel really silly because you’ve been caught out. It’s not something that you want to talk about – but it can happen to anyone.”

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