FTC lawsuit claims Roomster owner defrauded roommate job seekers with fake listings and reviews
Roomster is aappleApps downloaded from the App Store and Google Play are said to help people find roommates or rent out rooms. It’s very popular among college students and other low-income earners who can’t reasonably afford a place on their own, the FTC said.
The FTC noted, however, that Roomster hired AppWinn’s Jonathan Martinez to post thousands of fake reviews on listings. In addition, the complaint alleges that many rental listings advertised as “true, available, verified” are completely false or even non-existent.
Shriber and Zaks are said to have made tens of millions of dollars by charging fees for information on these fake listings.
“The Roomster and its owners, John Shriber and Roman Zaks, have received tens of millions of dollars from potential tenants, primarily low-income and students, the people most in need of reliable housing and the most Can’t afford to lose money.”
To be clear, Shriber and Zaks are not accused of posting false listings themselves. Instead, they are not simply not reviewing properties submitted to the platform, which opens the door to rental scams. In one instance, they marked a rental property as “verified,” but a simple address check revealed that it was a US Post Office commercial building.
Martinez’s role was to use his more than 2,500 iTunes accounts to load fraudulent reviews on Roomster’s real and fake listings. Email records obtained by the FTC show that Roomster had instructed Martinez to “ensure a random number of comments so it looks more natural.” Roomster sent the communication after the FTC notified Shriber and Zaks of an investigation into their company.
Martinez investigators reached a cooperation agreement and signed a proposed settlement for his role in the scam. If the court signs off, he will be banned from selling reviews and must pay a $100,000 fine. The fines will go to the six states listed in the lawsuit — New York, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Massachusetts. He also had to notify the App Store and Google Play Roomster that he was paying him to plant fake reviews and point them out which reviews he was responsible for publishing.
The complaint does not specify specific penalties that Rooster and its owners could face, but only mentions that their actions violated state law and the FTC Act.