A Miami man is one of two who has been indicted in a massive short-term rental scam that defrauded thousands of victims across 10 states and raked in more than $8.5 million, authorities said Thursday.
Shray Goel, 35, of Miami, and Shaunik Raheja, 34, of Denver, were charged Wednesday with multiple fraud counts in connection with more than 10,000 reservations linked to nearly 100 properties, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Goel was arrested in Florida on Dec. 27 and released on bond the next day, authorities said.
Prosecutors said the double-booking, bait-and-switch scam was run through online property rental platforms – primarily Airbnb – that brought in more than $8.5 million through misleading listings and fraudulently canceling reservations, which included discrimination against Black people.
The properties were located in places like Davenport in Florida, Los Angeles and Malibu, Denver, Chicago, Savannah, South Bend, Cleveland, Nashville, Austin, Dallas and Milwaukee, authorities said.
Goel and Raheja allegedly double-booked properties through multiple listings of the same property on Airbnb and Vrbo, and then invented bogus last-minute excuses – often claiming plumbing problems – to cancel overbooked guests or trick them into moving to inferior replacement accommodations.
Meanwhile, they ran a secret bidding war for the properties, posting multiple listings for the same property at different prices for the same night, then allowing the highest bidder to rent a property, before they cancelled or switched the lower-paying guests to a different property, prosecutors said.
Goel and Raheja even tried to avoid renting to guests they perceived to be black, prosecutors said.
“Goel and Raheja made decisions about which guests to keep and which to cancel based in part on their racial prejudices and discrimination,” the indictment alleges.
“This deplorable scheme victimized thousands of consumers and families across the country, some of whom allegedly were discriminated against because of racial bias,” United States Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement. “Fueled by greed, the defendants deceived consumers about the locations and conditions of properties, canceled reservations to double-book properties and based on racial prejudices, and lied to victims leaving them scrambling to find last-minute replacement accommodations. The sheer number of victims is astonishing, as is the millions of dollars earned though the scheme that took advantage of the reputations of online rental platforms that offer a valuable service.”
Goel, Raheja and their co-schemers used fake host names and, in certain instances, other people’s identities to list properties, prosecutors said. They allegedly used these fake host accounts to conceal their own identities, to double-book properties, and to post fabricated positive reviews of their properties.
They were also allegedly using the fake host accounts to continue to list properties after they had been banned from Vrbo in 2015 because of repeated host cancellations and guest complaints, officials said.
In addition, the pair took steps to hide or prevent negative reviews of the properties, even posting bogus negative reviews about the guests who had panned their listings, prosecutors said.
Goel and Raheja are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 13 counts of wire fraud. Goel is also charged with two counts of aggravated identity theft.
The conspiracy and wire fraud charges each carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
Goel apparently responded to the arrest and indictment in a post on X.
“It’s natural to form opinions based on what we hear and see, but I’m here today to ask you for something really important – to wait for the full story, to hold off on your judgment until all the facts are out there in the open, in the right legal setting,” the post read.
Airbnb released a statement Thursday following news of the indictments.
“Airbnb is built on trust, and bad actors have no place in our community. We supported the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI throughout their investigation to help ensure accountability, and we are thankful to them for their work,” the statement read. “We have taken multiple steps to strengthen our defenses against deceptive behavior, including measures like identity and listing verification which we believe will help further deter already rare instances of this type of activity.”