Airbnb is “in the Business of Trust” But Should We Trust Them?
Understanding and avoiding the Airbnb scam.
In the last decade, it’s become an absolute no-brainer for travellers to book their accommodations using Airbnb.
Since it’s launch in 2008, Airbnb has hosted over 500 million guests in over 191 countries and has an estimated market value of $38 billion.
The peer-to-peer hospitality network has made tucking into a stranger’s bed surprisingly comfortable. And surprisingly safe.
I’ve used Airbnb a handful of times and I’m yet to have a negative experience (knock on wood). The rooms I’ve rented have been accurately advertised and coordination with the hosts has been seamless.
But not everyone’s had this luck, as the case with Vice writer Allie Conti who’s Airbnb experience went viral. Allie wrote about her discovery of the nationwide scam on AirBnB that can easily exploit its users, which eventually led to Airbnb’s response.
Allie and her friends were set to stay at an Airbnb room in Chicago when she got a call 10 minutes before check-in time from her host. The host apologetically explained that the previous guest had flooded the toilet and that their stay in this unit would no longer be possible. But no worries — he arranged for them to stay at another property he had nearby. He sent some photos of the new place which appeared to be an upgrade from the original, so she agreed.
Upon arriving, it was obvious that this wasn’t the same house as in the photos he’d just sent. The place was run-down, had holes in the walls, ripped furniture, and no décor. As Allie put it, “it looked more like a flophouse than someone’s actual home”.
Refusing to spend their entire stay here, Allie booked a hotel room and requested a refund from the Airbnb host.
Weeks passed with no response from the host, so she contacted Airbnb where she was informed that she was ineligible for a full refund. The best they could do was $339 of the total $1221. She reluctantly accepted that this was all she would get out of them.
So what happened in Chicago? What Allie found was several red flags: the host’s phone number was an untraceable Google number, the listing photos were stock images downloaded from a media sharing website, and several other guests had shared the same experience.
She discovered that these experiences happen nationwide far more frequently than she had imagined. And because of Airbnb’s loose rules and regulations surrounding host information, guests are vulnerable to falling into fake property scams as Allie did.
Guest vulnerability has now become a major focus for Airbnb. Their entire business model is dependent on trust and people helping others, so leaving their users to fend for themselves is counter-intuitive.
Since Allie’s article, Airbnb has publicly announced that they are taking action to ensure safety and comfort for all guests using their platform. By December 2020, they aim to verify all 7 million listings and every single host. This year-long project will ensure that all listings are accurately advertised so people don’t find themselves in Allie’s position.
Airbnb will also be implementing a “24/7 Neighbor Hotline” to respond to any user concerns in real-time. And just for good measure, they will also guarantee their guests the option to rebook in a new listing or have their payment entirely refunded should their rental not meet quality standards.
So, Should We Trust Airbnb?
Since the public announcement, I’ve come across all sorts of opinions. Some say to boycott Airbnb; others can’t refuse the convenience and affordability of including Airbnb in their travel plans.
Although Allie Conti (and many others) had a horrible experience using Airbnb, I still feel comfortable using the network and won’t hesitate to book my next stay in an Airbnb. I’ve genuinely enjoyed renting with Airbnb and staying in the unique charming places they offer. There’s also something about staying next to locals that just adds to the novelty of the trip.
The plan that Airbnb has set out to ensure user comfort is surely a good sign and I don’t think these scams should deter you from booking on their platform on your next trip. But until the verification process is completed, you may want to be cautious with the listings you book.
How to Avoid Being Scammed
- Read the reviews. The best listings at any price point will have an abundance of positive reviews and a solid rating. This is probably the first thing you should look for when you think you’ve found a nice stay within your budget.
- Review the host’s profile. By clicking on the host’s name, you will be directed to their bio, host reviews, and their other listings. You want to trust your host, so find one that you’d feel comfortable renting from. Messaging them and getting a feel for their personality can be a great way to build this comfort.
- Reverse search the listing photos. A lot of these scams have been using stock photos or other published photos that can be found online. By doing a reverse search, you rule out the possibility that the host just saved an image from the web. Unless, of course, the listing photos show up on stock media websites when you do the reverse search.
- Never pay the host by e-transfer. This sounds obvious, but it’s a common mistake that’s made when people get scammed. The scammer tells the guest they’ll give them a better rate if they send the money through e-transfer rather than through Airbnb’s platform. If a host ever gives you this option, it’s a serious red flag.
What’s your take on the Airbnb scam? How did Airbnb handle the situation? Would love to hear what you think!