Russian crime forums have been using the home-sharing service to shuffle around cash under the table, sometimes with the help of legitimate Airbnb hosts.
As a recently unsealed indictment against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort showed, not even Airbnb is safe from money launderers. But Manafort isn’t the only one allegedly funneling dirty money through the mega-popular accommodation service. Scammers are leveraging Airbnb to launder dirty cash from stolen credit cards, according to posts on underground forums and cybersecurity researchers consulted by The Daily Beast.
The news shows how fraudsters will seize any opportunity they can, especially when there is an opening for pushing cash through online services, which sometimes require relatively little effort, a computer, and just a bit of creativity.
“People [have] been doing it forever,” one current and experienced credit-card scammer told The Daily Beast.
The Daily Beast found a number of recent posts on several Russian-language crime forums, in which users were looking for people to collaborate with to abuse Airbnb’s service. According to Rick Holland, VP of strategy from cybersecurity firm Digital Shadows, these operations rely on an individual or group using legitimate or stolen Airbnb accounts to request bookings and make payments to their collaborating Airbnb host. The host then sends back a percentage of the profits, despite no one staying in the property.
In essence, it’s a way to extract value out of stolen credit cards. In another case, fraudsters might buy electronic goods such as iPhones with stolen cards to then resell at a profit. This is the same idea of laundering funds, just with Airbnb.
“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.