On Saturday, we helped our Airbnb guests get their luggage downstairs, and then we hugged them goodbye.
The charming couple from Melbourne were off to New York and a town hall wedding that would be a surprise to their friends back home and a great story to tell their grandkids someday.
What an honor, we said, to be a small part of that story.
On Sunday, I got a polite letter from the Airbnb Trust and Safety Team, bringing to my attention an email I may have received from another Airbnb member.
Someone who had, perhaps, requested to communicate with me via private email or Facebook, or maybe sent a malicious message in which they might have asked me to verify my listing. Or then again, the letter said, perhaps my would-be correspondent had asked me to copy and paste a URL into a new browser window.
Whoever tried to con me hadn’t gotten through, to my knowledge (I get so much mail, it’s hard to keep track), and this was the first I’d heard of the attempt.
Airbnb asked that I halt my communication with the individual immediately and informed me that it had removed the account so that I would no longer have access to the message thread.
I didn’t think much of it after that, especially as I hadn’t actually seen the scammy message.
Would-be guests often try to get information from me – street address, phone number, email address, directions from my house to downtown, that sort of thing – all of which, I know, Airbnb’s filters will redact.
I’ve always assumed it was guests seeking to bargain with me off of the Airbnb site and thereby cut out the middleman, or newbies trying to get my phone number or email address, innocently ignorant of Airbnb’s policies.
Now, I’m no longer sure that every attempt was as innocent as all that.
Recent scams have forced me to look at how safe the service is and for how to best keep from getting scammed (check the end of the article for tips), and I’m not altogether reassured with what I’ve found.
The most recent scam to make it into headlines: on Wednesday, The Guardian ran an article about travelers who booked a flat in Barcelona that they’d found listed on Airbnb.
The reviews all seemed positive, they said. After booking, they received a series of emails, purportedly from Airbnb.
One of those emails asked the travelers to email their address in order to secure the rental agreement, which they did.
Then, another email asked the travelers – let’s just call them victims, because I’m sure you can guess where this is headed – to transfer funds into an Airbnb holding account.
The Guardian quotes “CB” from Manchester:
We assumed this was procedure, did as instructed and thought that we had completed the booking process. By the time we realised it was a fake account, it was too late.
Although Airbnb promised to investigate and removed the bogus listing, CB found an article that reported, a week before his/her attempted booking, that the very same flat had been used to scam another customer.
To rub salt into the wound, that same flat popped up again, 24 hours after Airbnb had removed it, and stayed up for another 48 hours.
In other words, the flat was a known bad apple, but somehow, Airbnb couldn’t keep the fraudsters from re-listing the same property multiple times.
In fact, it’s quite easy to put up a fake listing on Airbnb.
Grant Martin, a writer for travel industry website Skift, says that all it took for the site’s staff to create a bogus San Francisco listing were fake photos, a fake profile, a fake address and a real phone number.
It’s also possible for scammers to hijack a current, legitimate account, he suggested, possibly through bulk purchase of breached logins, and put up fake listings under the name of an unsuspecting user.
Skift gives one example of a peculiar exchange with an Airbnb user who was apparently victimised in this manner: a “spectacular penthouse” in Las Vegas was listed under his account that he didn’t seem to know about.
Make no mistake about it, Airbnb warns users to keep communication on the platform. Contact information is supposed to be exchanged only after a booking has been made.
Airbnb urges users to keep all payment and communication on its platform, advising that it will never ask them to pay elsewhere.
CB and his or her traveling companion(s) realise that now, but they don’t think Airbnb presented that information clearly enough.
They looked on the site and found what looked like a perfectly legitimate listing.
But because they took communication off the platform, they’re out £824 ($1297).
There are more horror stories still: A site called airbnbHELL is collecting what it claims are uncensored stories from hosts and guests.
One such story from somebody claiming to be an experienced host concerns a “seemingly nice couple” whom the host chatted with every day and even drove to the grocery store, all pleasant and all without complaint.
The day after they left, the host says, he or she got a notice from Airbnb stating that the couple claimed they saw a mouse in the condo and that Airbnb policy was to give them 50% of their money back for the duration of their 4-week stay.
The host claims to have done an image search and found the mouse image online. He or she also found that the same picture had been posted to another site over a year earlier.
Note that the stories on airbnbHELL haven’t been confirmed. Regardless, what’s disturbing is that they are plausible: Airbnb does reimburse guests who stay in deplorable rentals.
Airbnb has many safeguards to keep both guests and hosts safe and to keep transactions secure. It has a plethora of “Trust & Safety” pages.
But I wonder, can it do more?
So I asked the company these few questions and will update the article if and when it replies:
- It seems that the mouse story, reported by two airbnbHELL posters, is demonstrably false, given an image search. How can a host protect herself from this fraud? What is Airbnb doing to ensure that such reimbursements aren’t falsified?
- Is Airbnb working to ensure that listings are legitimate, and if so, how?
- What, if anything, is Airbnb doing to ensure that accounts aren’t being hijacked? For example, has Airbnb considered turning on two-factor authentication (2FA)? Would it consider proactively protecting users by watching for news of big breaches, raking up as many password/username combinations posted by crooks online that it can find, and sifting through them to see if they can be used to unlock Airbnb accounts, as Facebook has done?
I can’t be subjective: Airbnb is near and dear to my heart (and my wallet). I’m not giving up on it, though I’m going to be a whole lot more careful with my bookings!
Below are some tips on how to stay safe when Airbnb’ing.
How to stay safe on Airbnb
1. Be wary of messages that look like they’re from Airbnb
All legitimate payments on Airbnb take place through its website. If someone messages you on Airbnb and asks you to contact them off-site to arrange payment details, or to send your phone number or email address, they could be trying to rip you off. This is against Airbnb’s rules and you can report people who ask you to do so by flagging the message.
Look for the small flag icon in the message thread. Airbnb gives some examples of common scams on a page devoted to keeping your account secure:
- Advance fee: a type of scam in which an individual offers money or another reward in exchange for you transferring money through various payment services outside of Airbnb.
- Phishing: a type of scam in which someone will send an email or link that is made to look like it’s from Airbnb or another trusted site. These messages are designed to trick you into providing confidential information – such as passwords or other email addresses – and may contain malware that can gain access to your computer to gather your personal information, including passwords and/or credit card data.
- Travel: a type of scam in which someone will encourage you to secure your “too good to be true” listing by sending payment via wire transfer or with an advanced deposit in order to collect the money without providing the advertised accommodation.
- Overpayment: a type of scam in which someone will offer more than what your listing may be worth, and ask you to repay them in cash.
2. Protect your Airbnb account with a strong, unique password
Here’s a short, straight-talking video that not only shows you how to pick a proper password, but also explains why you should bother.
Make sure that you go by the rule of one site, one password. Otherwise, if you’re using just one login and it gets breached, the crook who has it can take over your Airbnb account (or your online bank account, or your Twitter account, or wherever else you’ve used that login) and put up fake listings under your name.
3. Keep all communications and payments on the Airbnb site
Airbnb redacts phone numbers, email addresses and URLs in messages, but scammers have found sneaky ways around its filters, such as posting images with text superimposed. Don’t go to any sites such scammers try to get you onto: they could well be rigged to plant malware or steal your credit card information or login.
Image of kitten with mouse courtesy of Shutterstock.
5 comments on “How to sleep tight and not get scammed on Airbnb”
So, were the guests from Australia the bad guys?
No, they were legit, and lovely!
I got scammed on Airbnb and it was a totally legit listing. I only communicated with the people through the Airbnb app. When I got to the house and met the folks they seemed cool. When I went out for dinner they stole all my stuff and locked me out. They told Airbnb my dog was violent and they were scared. I tried multiple times but I couldn’t get any refund and my luggage and laptop and camera, everything was stolen. They are still on Airbnb offering the same listing. I’d say Airbnb needs to be made illegal in every state. That’s the only time I used them so in my eyes they have 100% scam rate. There is no protection if you use them. The renters were even able to change their refund policy after I paid and the new rules were instantly considered valid. To make it worse, they sent me an email saying God bless, Jesus loves you. Also, once they canceled my reservation I wasn’t allowed to leave negative feedback. So, no one will ever know by looking at their listing.
Welcome to the shared economy. Leaving your things unattended was not very smart of you. Next time go for hotel. Sorry.
I think I may have just found a scammer the situation however is different from any of the above scams and I feel that it is important for me to leave this comment for that reason. I found a listing for a West Seattle 1 bed 1 bath on the popular site Trulia.com and responded through that site. I received an email from Ryan Quigtar who let me know he works out of Europe and is not available to show me the “studio” that was listed and does not know anyone in the area who could show it to me either. He said to ease the process he wants to use Airbnb.com and sent me the links for the website in the email.
I noticed more than a couple funky things in the 2 emails I’ve received from this guy and they go as follows; A) his listing on Trulia did not have any pictures and was also listed as a 1 bed 1 bath, not a studio like he referred to in his email B) the listing was posted recently within the last week or so (I know this because I get email alerts of new properties available that fit my search criteria and also emails from Trulia when a property I have liked or repsonded to is no longer available) – and very shortly after I responded, the listing was taken down, but when I asked Ryan if he had any more prospective tenants due the email I got from Trulia he said that it had expired and didn’t want to repost it. C) his grammar seemed odd to me in his emails and the initial email response I got in regards to the inquiry I sent theough Trulia was very lengthy and was a little too story-like. I.E.) he explained to me the whole history of the apartment and why he wanted to rent it for so cheap in a prime location in Seattle. Those are just generally not details that people renting properties would spend the time telling you initially if you didn’t ask; they just get down to the business right? D) in his initial lengthy response to me he asked me for references that he could call – I responded and let him know that although I do have references I do not want to provide personal information without seeing the property and communicating with him in person, I further inquired about deposits, and a showing. It was then, in his following email regarding my questions, that he let me know to ease the process he would like to use Airbnb.com and proceeded to ask me for my ID number, phone number, First and Last name, and address but did not mention references again at all – he was trying to assure me that as soon as I gave him my information that he would register it with Airbnb.com and then I would be contacted by an agent to make a deposit of over $1600.00 and then I would be contacted again once the deposit was processed by an agent who would coordinate a showing with me. E) He also stated he would be happy to sign a contract with me as soon as we get the process started. Wait…what? First he asked for references that I did not provide and then he told me he would happily sign a contract with me?! Landlords are not that promising, especially not if they are screening for good tenants.
I think I’m pretty spot on in saying that this is another scammer method. He asked me for a deposit without ever giving me the option to view the place which is the biggest red flag. Also the fact that he is asking for my personal information outside of Airbnb.com is in direct violation with their policy (which I found out today looking here at these other scams).
This goes for anyone out there looking for a place to rent or stay on any given website; DO NOT provide personal information over email or unsecured websites. And never ever wire funds to anyone that is not a family member or a reputable company that you have dealt with before. Wire Transfers are an outdated form of getting money to someone same day, so are Western Unions which work very similar but are even less secure. If someone is legitimately asking you for a deposit on a property of any kind, unless you are buying a house and are making a really sizable down payment, chances are that they will not ask you to provide funds via wire or western union. Further more: I’ve learned from working at a bank for the past two years that once you send a wire or western union those funds are not retrievable, therefore, it is in your best interest to research the company or person you are dealing with before sending money or providing your personal information to them. That money is no longer yours and there is no actual paper trail that would lead you to this scammer. All in all, trust your gut. Of course I was elated that I seemingly found the perfect place in the most perfect area, and had I not been so cautious of scams I might have just given him my information and other peoples as well! I could have been a victim of identity theft and been out 1600.00 dollars! I did not want to believe this was a scam but I’m going with my gut on this one, there are too many red flags. Apparently the saying “when in doubt – throw it out” applies not only to your fridge but online ads and emails as well.