Florida lawmakers have requested the US
Federal Trade Commission launch an
immediate investigation into fraudulent
online hotel booking sites.
same scams are cropping up around the
world and have caught Australians in the
Research suggests three out of five
Americans use travel websites to book
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,”
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
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.
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
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
Written by : Peter Needham
Caution with AirBnB
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
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
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
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
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