Convincing scam involving Airbnb reported in Ontario


Published May 24, 2024 at 11:54 am

Airbnb Scam Software Feature 2024

Avoiding scams is paramount for anyone at a time when fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated. Still, even savvy people can be caught by surprise if they find a potential scam in an unexpected place.

Lucy Yang, a GTA-based resident and cyber security specialist, recently discovered that fraudsters are finding new corners to hide in, as she encountered a camouflaged chatbot when booking an Airbnb for a business trip. What initially masqueraded as a customer service agent, in reality, turned out to be something much more nefarious. 

According to Yang, after being prompted with promises of 20 per cent off her booking, she was instructed by an ‘official’ Airbnb chatbot to send an e-transfer for payment. This set off several alarm bells for Yang, as all major transactions are done through Airbnb’s official platform, not e-transfers. 

“They were using very vague language, and because I work in cybersecurity, I was able to spot that very early. It was already sounding very suspicious but I waited it out to see what more they were asking for, and they wanted me to provide things like my name and phone number,” Yang told 

This confirmed further suspicions, as, according to Yang, all her information was already listed on her Airbnb profile. Further indicating that if it were an official representative, they would have almost instantaneous access to it and no reason to inquire. 

After following her gut, Yang took screenshots of the conversation, which included the offered discount and e-transfer request. She then sent the information to ScamSpotter, a machine-learning platform designed by the Canadian software company goConfirm. 

Upon receiving the screenshot, the software notified Yang that she was at risk of being scammed by a chatbot posing as an Airbnb representative. 

Kirk Simpson, the CEO of goConfirm, spoke to about the nature of the software and how it uses artificial intelligence to spot the hidden pitfalls in digital scams. 

“It’ll look at what language is being used. Like, how much is it urging for immediate action? What does the grammar look like? What is the overall tone, versus how a corporate entity would speak? These are the things it is actively analyzing. More importantly, it does not just give you the answer but also educates you in how to engage that process yourself,” Simpson told

Simspon further stressed that despite its quick thinking, ScamSpotter is not a cure-all for scam prevention, as it can’t generate absolute assurance. Instead, it gives users the tools to make the final call on how to move forward. 

Beyond this tandem relationship, ScamSpotter also combats digital frauds in a way that confronts their increased abundance by dissecting data that scams are built on. This ability to parse information not only helps potential victims but also provides them with future tools — tools that Simpson believes aren’t being provided correctly by the public.

At the time of this report, the federal government supplies a rudimentary fraud page for public access, which includes an aggregation of fraud victims, reports and funds lost to scams nationwide. This website is operated on the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre’s behalf and functions as a national fraud data hub. However, with roughly 20 subsections to navigate, Simpson believes that such a bloated format deters those seeking real-time fraud solutions.

“Nobody is reading a long website post that the Government of Canada puts out surrounding things to look out for in a scam. So, this allows for a much simpler, integrated and educational tool that operates on the fly by giving users a sanity check on their own intuition,” says Simpson. 

For Yang, however, even though ScamSpotter prevented a potential loss of hundreds of dollars, she firmly believes that an organization as expansive as Airbnb should have its own in-house spotting team, or at least applications to spot and weed out these frauds before they take root.  

“It’s frustrating because they talk a lot about user experience, but actively protecting the user from fraud and potential security risks should be part of that experience. It’s not completely absent. However, I still want to know what can be done further down the line,” says Yang.

Official Airbnb representatives provided with a statement on the matter.

They indicated numerous measures are taken to ensure clients stay on the official Airbnb browser when booking. Beyond that, representatives also stipulated that information on how to spot fake Airbnb correspondence is available to the public. However, surrounding the incident that impacted Yang, Airbnb representatives cited user error rather than any issue on their part, as they stressed that it occurred outside of the purview of their software.

“The reported issue is likely related to malware on the user’s browser or device and had no known connection to the Airbnb platform. To help our community keep themselves safe online, we strongly encourage them to stay on Airbnb to communicate, book and pay for a trip,” said an official Airbnb spokesperson in an email to

As for the genesis of digital scams,  Simpson and his team anticipate these trends continuing on both first—and third-party platforms, but the future remains vague, as programs like ScamSpotter are still in their infancy. Beyond this technology’s fresh status, one fact still looms: while industries attempt to protect clients with AI applications, scam artists utilize AI to boost their effectiveness in lockstep with them. 

As for how to combat this problem as it grows, Simpson remains adamant that a fighting fire-with-fire approach will remain viable. 

“AI is making the problem worse, and ironically, we’re using AI to help teach people what to look for. If it weren’t for the amazing progress between AI and other language tools, we wouldn’t be able to keep making a product that’s this simple and easy to use today,” he says. 

insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising