A federal grand jury has indicted Ray Goel and Shaunik Raheja for their roles in a vast internet rental property fraud. The scheme included 10,000 reservations in 10 states, generating over $8.5 million. In its indictment, the prosecution claims that Goel and Raheja deceived Airbnb, Vrbo, and the visitors who rented houses via those sites through their short-term rental company. On Wednesday, a new indictment was filed, adding Raheja to the original charges against Goel, which had been filed on December 13th. The supplementary indictment also claimed that the short-term rental property scheme included racism towards Black people.
According to the indictment, the firm would engage in “hidden bidding wars,” so visitors looking for rental homes in specific locations would see many listings of Goel and Raheja’s properties. When listing properties, operators sometimes use fictitious host names or even steal the identities of real individuals. The company oversaw about a hundred properties in the US by 2019. Guests who thought they had reserved a home at the last minute would be led to subpar rentals while paying the same rates because of “bogus last-minute explanations” for cancellations.
Using these “bait and switch” tactics, Goel and Raheja maintained a steady stream of tenants paying top dollar for their buildings.
Airbnb claimed 2023 that it had eliminated 59,000 fraudulent listings and stopped an additional 157,000 users from signing up. The five most important nations for the corporation are the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Australia, and they want to employ AI to validate listings there.
Goel and Raheja are accused of thirteen counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to conduct such a crime in the indictment. Goel faces two counts of aggravated identity theft and the other charges. They made money off the scheme by holding a covert bidding war for the properties, advertising the same place for different prices on the same night, and then letting the highest bidder rent it out before canceling or moving the lower-paying clients to another nearby spot.