A tale of caution related to Aps that involved cheap accommodation and transport involving private unknown people

July 2015
Florida lawmakers have requested the US Federal Trade Commission launch an immediate investigation into fraudulent online hotel booking sites. The same scams are cropping up around the world and have caught Australians in the web.

Research suggests three out of five Americans use travel websites to book their travel.

Heidi Dennis, general manager of the Atlantic Hotel and Spa on Fort Lauderdale Beach told WPLG Channel 10, an ABC-affiliated television station in Miami, that bogus websites were being put up and taken down so quickly “the consumer has no idea that they have been scammed until they show up at the hotel.

“A lady came to the front desk, she had a confirmation, it looked like ours but we didn’t have her name in our system,” Dennis said.

Further investigation revealed a bogus site offering a super low price.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association says misleading booking websites have duped 2.5 million hotel guests into making reservations through them.

More than two dozen members of US Congress are demanding that the Federal Trade Commission investigate companies tricking consumers with deceptive and fraudulent booking websites.

June 2015

A potentially disastrous flaw is emerging in some of the easy apps and websites that let travellers save money by arranging accommodation and transport with unlicensed, freelance operators.

The flaw is this: shady characters and rapists have seen the potential and are exploiting the system.

In the latest case, an Italian policeman is facing trial next month accused of raping a 16-year-old Australian girl, who was travelling in Europe with her mother and sister.

The policeman used the host-a-traveller website Couchsurfing.com (motto: “Stay with locals instead of at hotels”) to lure young women to his home – where he allegedly drugged and raped them, according to a report in the Guardian.

The policeman lives in Padua and used the name Leonardo on his Couchsurfing profile. He is accused of drugging the Australian girl with a tranquilliser and sexually assaulting her despite knowing she was a minor.

The case has led to a succession of other claims from women who say they were assaulted by the same man after using the popular website to arrange to stay with him. Three more cases are being investigated.

The Guardian says users of the site have been linked to several alleged sexual assaults over the years, including the rape of a Hong Kong tourist in England in 2009.

Jennifer Billock, the company’s chief executive, told the Guardian that Couchsurfing.com was constantly “evolving our tools and processes to find and halt abusers of our system”.

Meanwhile, car-sharing service Uber has been linked to a number of rapes and sexual assaults. San Francisco-based Uber, valued at USD 40 billion, lets passengers use an app to summon cars via smartphones in more than 250 cities around the world.

A Melbourne teenager claims to have been indecently assaulted by a driver she hired through Uber to take her home on New Year’s Day.

Another woman, who says she was assaulted and raped by an Uber driver in New Delhi, is suing Uber in the US. Indian police now allege the driver was a notorious serial rapist who saw cab-driving as the ultimate opportunity.

Just days after the woman in Delhi was allegedly assaulted, an Uber driver in Boston was arrested and charged with rape, assault, kidnapping, and two counts of assault and battery after allegedly attacking a young woman in his Uber car.

The alleged attack was the fourth time an Uber customer in the Boston area had reported an assault or sexual groping. Similar reports have emerged from Chicago and Los Angeles.

It doesn’t end there. A man in San Francisco who e-hailed an Uber car claims his ride finished with the crazed driver screaming “Get the f*** out of my car!” and hitting him over the head with a hammer. There’s a lawsuit over that one.

Uber cars may eventually be driven by robots rather than humans. That’s the plan. In the meantime, the company has begun a safety review to find new technologies, such as biometrics and voice verification, to help with driver screening and background checks. An in-app emergency button is being worked on.

Applications and sites such as Uber, Couchsurfing, Airbnb and similar, are aspects of the so-called “sharing economy” (sometimes referred to as the peer-to-peer economy, mesh, collaborative economy or collaborative consumption). Services are cheaper because few overheads are involved.

Regulation seems to be scarce too – and scary glitches keep happening.

Written by : Peter Needham

Caution with AirBnB

Controversy surrounding Airbnb is growing, with the room-sharing service reportedly demanding that some customers upload videos of themselves for verification before they can make bookings.The Sydney Morning Herald revealed an instance of an Australian woman trying to book a holiday to Europe, who was rejected by the service after she declined Airbnb’s request to upload a video. The woman felt uncomfortable giving Airbnb access to her Facebook timeline, birthday, location and other details.

Some Australian users are concerned by a provision in a Airbnb’s privacy http://www.angsana.com/en/ap-thailand-phuket/discover-value/familypolicy that states: “Parts of your Airbnb Community Services profile that contain some Personal Information may be displayed in other parts of the Airbnb Community Services to other users for advocacy or marketing purposes”.

The paper quoted an Airbnb executive saying that extra verification requirements had been added to prevent criticism that people’s personal security might be placed at risk.

“We’ve received extremely positive feedback from our community,” the executive said.

The news comes after the Weekend Australian reported that a Melbourne IT specialist reportedly lost AUD 9000 over the fake listing of a ­Hawaiian villa.

The seven-bedroom Honolulu villa was apparently listed as available to rent for AUD 1200 a night, with potential customers advised to contact “Emma”.

The alleged sting outlined by the Weekend Australian involved someone responding to the inquiry by emailing the inquirer an interactive replica of Airbnb’s booking pages, which led to a website which turned out to be false.

In another case, the paper said former AFL star Leigh Colbert had paid AUD 8000 earlier this year to stay in a Monaco villa, only to find he had paid a hacker who did not own the property.

An unnamed Melbourne barrister told the paper that an apartment host in London had accepted his booking, then demanded an extra AUD 1000 at the last minute to hold it. When the lawyer refused to pay, Airbnb reportedly let the London host cancel the reservation.

Airbnb Australia spokesman Dylan Smith told The Weekend Australian that incidences of fraud were “extremely rare”. He stressed the importance of keeping bookings strictly on the Airbnb platform.

Written by Peter Needham