Hey, this is my house, and it’s not for rent on Airbnb
What’s wrong with this picture? A six-bedroom, six-plus bath, oceanfront Montauk home with a 45-foot long heated saltwater gunite pool with a waterfall edge, high-end kitchen appliances, guard butler dining and a wet bar, is listed on Airbnb for $2,500 a night?
The answer, according to Brett Benza, owner of the house: “My house does not rent at that price. The luxurious 7,300+ square foot Montauk home he built in 2015, “costs $10,000 a night. And I would never rent it through Airbnb. Mr Benza, who lives in Miami Beach, Florida, is a financial services industry veteran who founded EazyO, a beach food ordering app, in 2015.
As the summer home rental gold rush grows, so do professional scammers on sites such as Airbnb, where they create dozens of fake accounts, fake ads and fake reviews to scam local law enforcement and customers looking for deals on the platform.
That’s exactly what happened with Mr. Benza’s home, now listed with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, to buy or rent. (Buy: $14.5 million. Rent for the year: $1.2 million; it’s already been rented for the summer.) About a month ago, her realtor called to ask why Mr. Benza had listed his home on Airbnb. He had not.
While checking out the vacation rental site, he saw his home listed as “Best Ocean View Home in Montauk.” Photos from Douglas Elliman’s listing, along with their descriptions of the house, had been used to create the Airbnb post, in which the owner of the house was named Michelle. When he checked the property’s availability calendar, it appeared that some dates had even been booked.
He immediately contacted Airbnb, first via the frustrating virtual chat box, then via email to customer service representatives, demanding that they remove the fraudulent listing. But it came to nothing.
“So I decided to play fire with fire,” he said. He created a pseudonym – Bobby Fortune – and decided to book his own house on the website to see where it would lead.
This led to “Michelle”, who, after confirming that her desired dates were available, offered Mr. Benza a discounted rate on the nightly rate, if he was willing to bypass Airbnb and send payment directly. into her husband’s bank account instead. .
Mr. Benza shared his email correspondence with Michelle with The Star, offering insight into how the scheme unfolded. It even included a legitimate rental agreement.
“Dear Mr. Bobby Fortune. Please find attached the rental agreement for your 15 night rental from June 15, 2022 to June 30, 2022. Please arrange payment of the $6,000 deposit to the following Zelle account to confirm your reservation once the contract has been signed.” she wrote in an email.
The Zelle account was for her husband, Galib Qureshi, she explained, then sent another email: “Can you proceed with the payment now. Also, I want to tell you that it’s not a big deal if you want to make the payment twice because I know Zelle’s daily limit can be tricky sometimes.”
Airbnb displays this warning next to every listing: “To protect your payment, never transfer money or communicate outside of the Airbnb website or app,” and offers guidance on what to do if you are asked to pay off-platform.
However, according to Mr. Benza, it does not offer any help to owners who may be the victims of fraudsters’ schemes. So he sent an angry email to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.
“I have given your team 10 days to remove this listing,” Benza wrote in the email. “It’s a fraud because I own this property. People drove up to the house and told me they were renting it out this summer. I filed a police report with the Montauk [police precinct] and filed an FBI IC3 [internet crime] complaint. At this point, you need to step in and remove this from your website.”
It remained on the website. So, then he decided to post the same fake ad on Airbnb, with the words, “It’s a scam,” on it to warn potential renters.
Last week, however, he said he received a request to rent his place on Airbnb, despite warnings on the post. Mr Benza thinks it could be the original people who spread the fake ad, trying to find out who was behind the news.
Eventually, all listings for his home were taken down, but Mr. Benza remains concerned that people may show up this summer claiming to have legitimately rented his home.
Because of this, on April 20, he called the East Hampton Town Police Department’s Montauk Precinct to file a complaint, while still in Florida. This week he is returning to Montauk and will drop him off in person.
The reasons for telling his story, he said, were twofold: “The community should be aware of these scams because it could happen to anyone.” He also wants people to know “that Airbnb does not protect its users.”
Then he added, “My dad, Al Benza, was a decorated NYPD detective. I hate criminals.”