#ScamAlert! Notorious Airbnb Host Allegedly Ran $8.5M Nationwide Scam

A notorious Airbnb host at the center of a 2019 Vice investigation has been indicted in California for allegedly masterminding a nationwide scam that systematically double-booked guests to rake in profits. 

Shray Goel—who describes himself as a “visionary in real estate,” among other things—was indicted on December 28 for wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and criminal forfeiture by a grand jury in the central district of California. He’s accused in the indictment of running a scam since 2018 in which he double-booked guests at some of the over 100 properties he operates across the country, then fabricating excuses to either cancel at the last minute or move one of the parties to a less appealing property. Goel raked in $8.5 million through these schemes through various rental websites in 2018 and 2019 alone. 

Goel would set up separate listings for the same property at different prices, according to the indictment, then cancel the lower-priced rental with excuses about bad plumbing, offering guests a lesser-quality rental with deteriorating furniture and cobwebs instead. Airnnb’s policies don’t allow guests to be fully refunded if they stay the entire night at their accommodation. If the guest chose not to stay, Goel would lie to Airbnb or other companies and say they had stayed. Goel and his associates would also berate and threaten customer service reps in order to deny guests refunds to which they were entitled, according to the indictment.

Goel and his accomplices, who are not named in the indictment, are accused of creating fake host accounts in order to pull off the scam at Airbnb and two other short-term rental sites, Vrbo and Homeaway. The accounts were almost always posing as couples, with names like “Alex & Brittany,” “Becky & Andrew” or “Kelsey & Jean” and using stock images for profile pictures.

Goel would also de-list and re-list apartments so that no one would see his bad reviews and use some of his fake accounts to write glowing, positive reviews for his other fake accounts. The indictment lists 19 separate apartments where Goel carried out the alleged scheme, including ones in Austin, Nashville, Malibu, Denver, and Los Angeles.

The indictment includes communication sent by Goel over Airbnb’s platform, including various messages where Goel or his accomplices said that the plumbing was not working in the unit they had booked. “He mentioned that he already contacted a lot of plumbers but unfortunately no one responded. He wants to cancel the reservation,” said one message written by Goel or his partners, who posed as intermediaries for hosts.

If Goel is convicted, the government could force him to forfeit all of the properties, according to the indictment. 

Goel’s scheme was uncovered in an in-depth investigation by reporter Allie Conti in 2019, who detangled the plot after being double-booked at one of his properties in Chicago and receiving a suspicious last-minute cancellation. Conti was contacted by the FBI days after the article was published. 

Goel’s alleged scheme was part of a larger pattern of frauds on Airbnb, according to one nearly-decade old report out of Los Angeles mentioned in Conti’s article. The report found large companies were creating profiles to appear to be small property owners renting out their units. Airbnb has rules against users misrepresenting their identity, but they were not rigorously enforced at the time of the article. 

Goel’s website and social media presents him as an adventurer and entrepreneur. A bio says that he dreamed at a young age of being a pirate searching for treasure. The bio implies that his real estate empire fell apart during the pandemic, but that he was trying to bounce back by dipping his toes in AI by “building a company that aimed to revolutionize memoir sharing.”

Goel posted to X on December 30 saying, “Yesterday was an incredibly tough day for me. While I can't publicly speak about the circumstances—I was heading to my condo, feeling sorry for myself.” He then says that “after being awake for a relentless 48 hours” he witnessed the aftermath of someone having jumped to their death. He then offers his support, “To my friends, family, and even the Twitter trolls: if you need someone to talk to, I'm here. Life can be tough, but it often brings unexpected moments of hope and clarity.”