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Russian criminals are using Airbnb to launder stolen money

Published Nov 27th, 2017 3:24PM EST
Airbnb Crime
Image: Nicholas Wang

Russian criminals and cyber thieves are increasingly utilizing Airbnb listings as a clever way to launder money, according to a fascinating new report from The Daily Beast. Laundering money is of course nothing new, but Airbnb provides criminals with a seemingly straightforward way to turn dirty money into seemingly clean money.

The way the scheme works is pretty simple. Criminals work in cahoots with Airbnb hosts who are often found via online forms. A booking is made with an Airbnb listing and an accompanying payment is sent over, even though no one actually ends up staying at the presumably rented out property. From there, a percentage of the payment  is sent back to the criminal. Another twist on the scheme is that some criminals will set up their own Airbnb accounts or even purchase hacked accounts online. And in an effort to add even more legitimacy to what are in reality hollow transactions, fake reviews for visits that never happened are often left for the Airbnb host.

The report reads in part:

The money is 50/50,” one apparent scammer wrote on a Russian crime forum in August. “You receive the money within two days after the booking date,” it continues, and adds that there are “story-telling hosts” ready, likely referring to hosts who are in on the laundering.

In a statement on the matter, an Airbnb spokesperson said that the site employs a number of security measures to prevent such behavior from taking place.

“We have a real-time detection system that scores each and every Airbnb reservation ahead of time for risk,” Airbnb said. “Using machine learning and predictive analytics, models instantly evaluate hundreds of signals to flag and then stop any suspicious activity.

“When we are made aware of suspicious credit-card activity, we employ micro authorization friction and 3D-Secure to verify if a credit card is being used by its owner and assess the level of risk associated with a transaction,” the statement further notes.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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