‘Elderly couple’ trick Dubai woman into renting apartment they didn’t own

Manager loses over Dh18,000 to fraudsters running fake Airbnb site


Mazhar Farooqui

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Published: Thu 17 Nov 2022, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 24 Oct 2023, 1:29 PM

Dubai newcomer Mansi, 28, was excited. She had clinched a fantastic rental deal and couldn’t wait to move into her new apartment.

The Indian manager was house-hunting last month when she came across a property listing on Dubizzle that seemed to tick all the right boxes.

The tastefully furnished studio at Jumeirah Lake Towers was just a block away from her office. At Dh3,000 per month, including utilities, WiFi and kitchen essentials, it was a steal, thought Mansi as she looked at the photographs accompanying the listing.

The apartment had floor-to-ceiling windows offering scenic views. There was a balcony too with a pair of cute chairs and table.

It was exactly the kind of place Mansi wanted. The email exchanges with the ‘British property owner’, Cliodhna A. Murphy, had been reassuring.

“I am now established back home in the United Kingdom. We bought this apartment for our vacations in the Emirates, but we got a little too old for travelling, so you won't be bothered by us during your stay,” Murphy wrote on October 31.

Mansi was told she had to book the apartment through Airbnb by paying Dh6,000. Half of it was towards advance rental payment covering the first month of the tenancy. The remaining Dh3,000 was a refundable security deposit.

“The payment will stay with Airbnb until you arrive and confirm the property is in the exact condition as described. In the contrary case, you will get an instant refund,” Murphy said in a follow-up email.

In order to start the booking process, Mansi was asked to share her photograph, full name, address, cell phone number as well as arrival and departure dates.

She was then sent a booking link.

As a frequent Airbnb user, Mansi didn’t see anything amiss.

She had used the online marketplace several times – the most recent being for a short-term home stay in Europe.

“Everything looked like standard practice,” recalled Mansi. She should have known better.

As it turned out, the booking link sent to her didn’t take her to the real Airbnb website but a cloned page, complete with fab reviews and top star ratings of the property from pleased customers.

Barring a minute change in the URL, the phony site looked so deceptively similar to the Airbnb website that Mansi didn’t think twice before paying Dh6,023 using her debit card.

She was notified about the transaction by her local bank via SMS.

Bizarrely, the same amount was deducted from her account twice against transactions which Mansi claims she didn’t authorise.

“I get an SMS from the bank every time I use my debit card. But in this case no SMS or email was received by me confirming the two unauthorised transactions,” said Mansi, who subsequently filed a dispute with the bank.

In an email response to a Khaleej Times query, the bank said they followed “appropriate procedures” and assisted the victim “to the fullest extent”.

It said their Group Customer Experience Team has been in touch with the victim and “has provided her with the necessary clarifications”.

However, Mansi, is far from convinced.

“I am intrigued why the bank didn’t flag any of these transactions, considering they were initiated in foreign currency against a crypto merchant. Ideally, they should have raised an alarm as the same amount was deducted thrice in quick succession,” said Mansi. She had relocated to Dubai in August and was saving money to make a down payment against a house in India.

Over five million people across the globe have fallen for bogus listings on rental sites, according to the Better Business Bureau, a non-profit organisation focused on advancing markeplace trust. Fake Airbnb sites have hurt several Dubai residents too this year.

Like Mansi, they were deluded into believing that the properties were owned by a UK-based elderly British couple who were too old to travel and wouldn’t bother them during their stay.

The victims have one more thing in common. All of them made payment to the fake site through the same local bank.

None of them every got back any money.

Graphic: Raja Choudhury
Graphic: Raja Choudhury


(Name of victims changed on request)


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