Gabriel and Anabel paid $15,500 for an Airbnb home. They arrived to learn it didn’t exist.

Spanish parents Gabriel and Anabel Ros and their five children were on the holiday of a lifetime in New Zealand. The several-month long trip had been planned so they could practice their English ahead of what they hoped would be a long-term move in the future.

Everything was going well. The family had booked to stay in a handful of homes around the country through Airbnb and everything with their first two rental homes had been fine.

But when they arrived at the address of their third Airbnb rental in Takapuna, Auckland, the trip suddenly went sour. The home that was supposed to accommodate them didn’t exist. The listing on the popular site had been a fake.

And this wasn’t just a small hiccough. The couple had paid to stay from September 6 until the end of November – a total of $15,500 (NZD$17,000) and a huge chunk of the family’s life savings.

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So how could their trip have gone so horribly wrong?

According to the New Zealand Herald, who spoke to the family about their misfortune, it began when they were told their credit cards were “invalid” by the person they tried to book with.

That scammer asked them to transfer money into a Spanish bank account instead. The method of this transfer and the fact it’s international has also made it all-but-impossible for local police to track and recover the family’s money.

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A spokesperson for Airbnb told the New Zealand Herald the company was not to blame for this crime, as it warns against and actively tries to prevent tourists from making payments outside its platform, which is where scammers strike.

The spokesperson said hosts were required to provide their names, date of birth, photos, phone numbers and email addresses, and the website used an analytical program to alert and stop anything suspicious.

“When we detect potentially concerning behaviour our team takes a range of actions including removing a user from the platform entirely,” they said.

“Building a safe, trusted community is our priority.”

However, this hasn’t helped the Ros family, who are calling on Airbnb to improve its scrutiny of hosts. Anabel and Gabriel’s eldest daughter Amaia, speaking on behalf of her family, said her parents had been “sad and worried” at the time.

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“Thankfully we have enough money to stay … but imagine if this happens to a family that doesn’t have the money. We were thinking of going back to Spain because of this, but then we met very lovely people and the community that helped us,” the 19-year-old said.

That warm community effort Amaia is talking about stemmed from the local Takapuna Primary School, where their youngest child had been enrolled.

The school’s principal Cindy Walsh said soon after learning what had happened, parents at the school and other community members arranged for a discounted, furnished rental home to be organised, as well as home-cooked dinners delivered to their new home.

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