Two Charged in Extensive $8.5 Million Airbnb and Vrbo Fraud Scheme

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The federal government has charged Shray Goel and Shaunik Raheja in a complex case involving an $8.5 million scam. This scheme, primarily executed through Airbnb and Vrbo, involved misleading property listings and discriminatory practices against Black renters.

Case Details

  • Indictment Charges: Both men face allegations of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 13 counts of wire fraud. Additionally, prosecutors have charged Goel with two counts of aggravated identity theft.
  • Victim Count: The fraud impacted thousands of individuals, linked to over 10,000 reservations and nearly 100 properties in 10 states.

The Fraud Mechanics

  • Goel and Raheja are accused of operating a short-term rental business, Abbot Pacific LLC, used to conduct their fraudulent activities.
  • They allegedly engaged in a double-booking strategy, creating multiple listings for the same property on Airbnb and Vrbo.
  • Utilizing fabricated excuses like plumbing issues, they canceled or moved guests to less desirable accommodations.
  • A bidding war mechanism was employed to maximize profit from these properties.
  • The indictment also highlights racial discrimination, with the defendants accused of selectively canceling reservations based on racial biases.

Charges and Penal Codes

  • Wire Fraud: The charge of Wire Fraud, under 18 U.S.C § 1343, is a federal offense that targets the use of interstate communications for carrying out fraudulent schemes. In the current case, this relates to the supposed use of online platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo to deceive renters.
  • Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud: Under the charge of Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, as outlined in 18 U.S.C § 1349, the indictment alleges a joint effort by Goel and Raheja to perpetrate wire fraud. This suggests that both individuals coordinated their actions to defraud renters, as per the provisions of this statute.
  • Aggravated Identity Theft: The accusation against Goel for Aggravated Identity Theft under 18 U.S.C § 1028A alleges that he unlawfully used another person’s identity to commit felony wire fraud. This statute applies when identity theft aids or occurs in conjunction with a felony offense.

Potential Legal Consequences

  • Convictions could lead to up to 20 years in prison for each wire fraud and conspiracy charge. Aggravated identity theft carries an additional two-year mandatory sentence.
  • Financial repercussions, including fines and restitution, are also likely.

The FBI and FDIC-OIG are leading the investigation into this case, with support from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Airbnb and Vrbo are actively cooperating with the government in this investigation, a cooperation that the government acknowledges and values. It’s essential to note that an indictment represents only an accusation. Under the law, all defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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