booking a castle does not come cheap

Airbnb scam sends you to a fake Tripadvisor site, takes your money

One of my co-workers who works on Malwarebytes’ web research team just witnessed a real life example of how useful his work is in protecting people against scammers.

Stefan decided to visit Amsterdam with his girlfriend, and found a very nice and luxurious apartment in Amsterdam on Airbnb. In the description the owner asked interested parties to contact them by email.

“The property is listed on several websites so contact me directly by mail to check for availability.”

So Stefan emailed the owner. They replied, asking Stefan to book the property through Tripadvisor because, they said, the Airbnb platform was having some problems and the fees were higher than on Tripadvisor.

“My name is Carla Taddei, I am a co-host of this property, your dates are available.

The nightly rate is €250, also a €500 security deposit is required which will be fully refunded at the check out date (in case of no damages to the property). Cleaning and disinfection are included in the price. FREE CANCELLATION, FULL REFUND WITHIN 48 HOURS PRIOR THE CHECK IN.

Currently , we are encountering technical difficulties with the Airbnb calendar system, so we decided to use as our main platform. Because the Airbnb platform has very high fees, I choose to use only

If you would like to book our property, I need to know first some information about you, your name, your country and how many persons will stay with you in our property, also I want you to confirm me your email address. I will then make all the arrangements and I will send a tripadvisor invitation through in order to complete the reservation.”

Included in the mail were two shortened URLs which the owner claimed linked directly to the same property.

However, the link didn’t point to the real Tripadvisor site, but instead a fake one, which became clear when Malwarebytes Browser Guard popped up a warning advising Stefan not to continue.

Stefan received a mail that claimed to be from Tripadvisor, but more alarm bells were triggered when the sender email showed up as — not exactly the email address you’d expect from Tripadvisor itself.

The owner sent a follow up email, saying the booking request had been sent out and insisting that Stefan had to pay and send confirmation before the booking could be validated.

“Everything was arranged from my side and you should have the booking request by now. My device routed it to my promotion folders so just check all your email folders because you must have it.

Please note, the full payment including the security deposit is required on the same time. The deposit is required for the security of the property, if there are any damages or something else is missing from the property and it is fully refundable on the day when you leave the property.

Please forward and the payment confirmation once done so I can validate your booking.”

The scammer hoped Stefan would click on the booking button on the fake Tripadvisor site. If he had done, he would have seen a prompt to register with ‘Tripadvisor’.

One step further and he’d have been asked to enter his credit card details, at which point he would have been likely to pay a lot more than the agreed €2000 for an apartment he would never see from the inside.

Further research based on the URL to the fake Tripadvisor website showed us that these scammers have probably been active for quite some time.

We found 220 websites related to this particular scam campaign. 26 of them were structured similar to, and related sites. And 194 were structured similar to, and related sites.

How to recognize and avoid scams

There are several ways in which this procedure should have set your scam spidey senses in action, even if you’re not a professional like Stefan.

  • When it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true. Don’t fall for a ‘good deal’ that turns out to be just the opposite.
  • Book directly via the platform you are on. If someone tries to get you to do something that’s not typical behaviour for that service, then they may well be up to no good.
  • Check the links in the emails are going to where you expect. Even though the links in the email say, in reality they pointed to The use of URL shorteners where there is no actual need to shorten a URL is often done to obfuscate the link.
  • In the same vein, check the address in your browser’s address bar to check if it is going to where you would expect. The fake Tripadvisor site was hosted at which has been taken offline now.
  • Don’t get rushed into making decisions. Scammers are always trying to create a sense of urgency so you click before you can think.
  • Double check the website again before entering personal details or financial information.
  • Keep your software updated and use a web filter that will alert you to suspicious sites.

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Pieter Arntz

Malware Intelligence Researcher

Was a Microsoft MVP in consumer security for 12 years running. Can speak four languages. Smells of rich mahogany and leather-bound books.