An Auckland woman and her friends are nearly $5000 out of pocket and feeling "traumatised" after scammers posing as Airbnb hosts took their money and duped them out of a New Year's Eve pad.
Michaela Scarrott, 23, is sharing her story as a warning to others who use the popular accommodation website.
Airbnb has previously warned travellers about scams - which have been reported overseas- and dedicates a section of its website to showing people how to spot when they are being duped.
Scarrott and eight of her friends booked a large Whangarei home - described as a luxury apartment in the advertisement - from December 27 to January 2 six weeks out from their stay, with the bill coming to $4800.
Airbnb guests are required to pay up front and both hosts and guests are endorsed by reviews on the website.
The booking process went awry after the website did not accept her credit card details.
Someone purporting to be from Airbnb was "live chatting" Scarrott over the website when the payments kept declining, and she was told she would have to pay by bank transfer instead - to a Spanish account.
That's when the alarm bells started going off, Scarrott said.
"I said, 'that's not safe at all,' and they said, 'it's fine, it's fine'. If you don't want to transfer to Spain, you can transfer to this Sydney bank account [instead]."
Panicking that she was going to miss out on the accommodation she agreed to transfer the money - "against my better judgment."
After the transfer she stopped hearing from her 'host' and sensing something was off, asked friends in Whangarei to go and knock on the host's door.
The perplexed owners told her they'd never listed the home on Airbnb and had only just bought the house themselves.
Scarrott believes scammers used the photos from the real estate listing to create an Airbnb listing, but users were transferred to a fake website during the booking process so the scammers could direct payments to themselves.
She said the scam was particularly sophisticated, including the use of the live chat, a lengthy and detailed contract she was asked to sign - which she believed made the scam more credible - and almost identical booking confirmation emails to those of Airbnb.
"I just feel very traumatised by the whole experience," Scarrott said. "I love organising events for my friends but I feel really reluctant to do this in the future. It was the most heart-sinking feeling finding out it was a hoax."
She said her bank wouldn't refund the amount because it wasn't credit card fraud, and Airbnb wouldn't compensate her because the money was taken from a third party website. She laid a police complaint but said she was told there was nothing they could do.
Airbnb didn't respond to requests for comment but its website warns travellers of various scams including being asked to pay through third party websites and being offered better rates if a deposit is wired.
Any reservations made outside of Airbnb violate its terms of service, the website says, and if a reservation is identified to have been made through a third party service their accounts can be deactivated.
The listing made for the Whangarei apartment has been removed by Airbnb.
Police wouldn't comment on the case but said people in Scarrott's position should report all scams to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment's Consumer Protection website.
Netsafe's website says it comes across scams like this "from time to time" and warns people booking accommodation online to take precautions, including never paying a host directly, being wary if payments are requested to international bank accounts, and only using reputable websites.
The silver lining was that Scarrott realised the listing was bogus before making the drive north with her friends, she said. But she's warning others not to make the same mistake:
"I just want to let everybody know because I'm well aware of online scams and I thought I was being safe and I was really reluctant to do the [bank] transfer [but] I just felt pressured to. I just really want to let people know this does happen, and what to look for, [as] I would hate for this to happen to someone else."