Why Airbnb Scams Are More Common Than You Think

You want to travel to a destination but don’t want to pay an unreasonable price. So you browse on Airbnb, a platform where homeowners can rent rooms and properties at fair rates.

After using filters and reading some reviews, you contact a few hosts. Everything looks great, so you book your stay. 

But in the last 24hours before the travel day, something happens. 

  • The host cancels the stay.
  • The host doesn’t respond to the calls, or they aren’t there when you arrive.
  • You can’t find the direction.
  • The property doesn’t appear as advertised in the listing.
  • The host asks for cash, even though you already paid on the platform.

Maybe everything goes perfectly. But one day, the host may have entered the property without permission, and now you can’t find your valuables.

Worst of all? There is no way to see them coming. You can make the best web research, and at least a little thing will go wrong. If you feel like the host ripped you off, you can always ask for Airbnb support. Of course, you’d like them to respond as soon as possible, read your complaint, and refund the whole amount. And that wouldn’t be enough to recover the time you wasted.

In practice, Airbnb’s “customer satisfaction” could look like this:

  • If you cancel your stay because the person scammed you, you could stay on the street for the rest of the night.
  • If you provide evidence that you’re right, you may be sending support tickets to the team back and forth for days, who may also decline if the loss was your fault.
  • The staff may run automated questions, always with lots of delays.

Some people would rather accept the loss than working with such people. 

Usually Airbnb’s support is decent, however depending on your location and luck you could surely run into a similar scenario as above. It happens and not so infrequently.

Does it mean you should stop using Airbnb?

Frequency of Airbnb Scams

You can measure customer satisfaction with the number of support tickets received (not their support rating, like others believe). Having too few of them shows you’re solving most customer’s problems. Having too many reveals structural problems.

They haven’t designed the platform to cover certain issues, which makes it buggy and easy to take advantage of scammers. Here are some features you would never expect from such a big brand:

  • Most people avoided the mobile app because it was glitchy. If this is the case today as you read this as well, you should check recent reviews of the app.
  • You only need a phone number and email to become a host. Anybody could create multiple fake accounts. When Airbnb bans a host, they can rejoin the platform with another account.
  • Their platform doesn’t recognize fake or duplicated listings well. We had our own properties faked and duplicated as well.
  • They don’t supervise customer reviews unless reported, so social validation is often wrong or outdated.
  • You can’t refund the full amount if you’ve stayed for more than a night already.
  • People pay outside the platform, thinking Airbnb protects their purchase.
  • Airbnb isn’t aware of the many fake website clones designed to steal people’s data.
  • The company doesn’t make any background checks to guarantee minimal lodging quality. Even the address could be wrong.

Are you really saving money with Airbnb? You may get lucky. But the more you travel with this company, the more likely you are to encounter such problems. 

It doesn’t mean Airbnb is terrible. But you can’t expect to pay less and get the same quality guarantees and services you’d get from a hotel (and it still wouldn’t be safe. You should check our article on Hotel Scams). As long as you book responsibly, however, your chances to get ripped off fall under 1%. Airbnb is full of wonderful and personalized rentals.

A fast-growing company should update its systems and security. As you move more money, more people will feel tempted and try to take it. If travelers are already complaining about the platform, you can imagine how chaotic everything becomes when a scammer appears.

The Biggest Problem With Airbnb

Before we show how to take control of the situation, let’s set the right expectations for what could happen in this platform.

We’re sure you joined Airbnb because of the pros (lower prices, more diversity, convenience). But if we had to summarize the cons, it would be the misleading listings and lack of help.

#1 Why customer support?

Long before Airbnb was even a thing, the Airbnb founders had already decided the values to guide the company. Customer satisfaction was not one of them. The idea was to offer low prices and give control to the hosts, but it didn’t turn out very well.

People renting properties naturally want to earn as much as possible. So even if the team cared about customers, some hosts wouldn’t. When people contact the team for some issues, almost always happen all of these:

  • No support in emergencies:

You can call Airbnb’s emergency number, but urgent attention isn’t a guarantee. If you booked in other countries, you’d be lucky if they reply in the first 24 hours.

While the team is “processing your request,” anything could happen to you. If you had to cancel the stay, you’re essentially in the middle of nowhere, waiting for Airbnb to take their time and respond.

  • Disorganized team:

One common frustration is the difficulty of contacting real agents from big brands. These companies try to save time on repetitive work and see automation as the holy grail of business. 

It should have helped to support more customers at the same time. The problem is, it doesn’t help to solve problems. Clients still prefer getting help from real people. But even that way, they have created such a complicated team hierarchy that it takes ages to make a decision.

You think you’ve done everything they asked, you don’t know what they want, nor even if they’re working on the problem. Unlike hotels, you can’t ask the staff in-person to help you. They may tell you to rest assured they’re doing everything possible to fix it, and they will contact you soon. They promise but never deliver.

Unfortunately, low customer service quality is frequent in most companies, not only travel agencies.

  • Unfair refunds:

Let’s first look at Airbnb’s refund policy. You qualify for a full refund when you cancel within 24h of booking or 24h after finding an issue. You cannot refund coupons, and service fees may not refund if you have canceled more than three times in the last year.

In case the property doesn’t match with the listing description, you should gather evidence to speed up the refund process. Even though Airbnb sent it right away, it may take you days to receive it.

Then, pray and hope for the team not to take long weeks on the matter. Unless you point it out, they may keep the services fees or offer a partial refund only.

  • Deactivated accounts:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an excellent guest or have the best rental business of Airbnb. No matter the success,there’s still something we will never have when using a service: control.

Anytime, Airbnb can decide when to stop letting you access the site. After years using the app, you may find a harsh message:

  • We decided to block your account permanently, which may affect any future profiles you create. We’ve done it for the best interest of Airbnb and its customers.
  • We don’t have any obligation to explain why you can’t keep using our service.
  • From now on, we’re not liable in any way to this case respect the blocking account.

It could happen right before you go on a trip. Or Airbnb shuts down your business as a super host with long-history. Or someone broke into your account, triggering the deactivation. Since you aren’t the problem, you can’t find a solution.

Remember that any company can do this, although it’s unusual.

#2 No background nor identity checks

Of course, clients and Airbnb prefer hosts who have completed all the verification, but it’s optional. How can you trust these people when anyone with a phone and an email can create a hosting account?

Service quality says a lot about a company. 

Don’t all hosts want to offer the best service to secure more business? Not all of them. Some may create fake listings to make money in other ways.

Doesn’t Airbnb want to attract more people to its platform? It sounds attractive to have more freedom as a host, but when the team can’t help travelers with their problems, they will blame the host, but especially Airbnb.

Except for those who use the platform the intended way, most hosts design their listings to attract people to them. You can’t just trust photos and descriptions. Your best verification tool is the recent reviews, which may still be unreliable.

No-one checks these properties to review the safety or quality standards: not even the addresses appear verified. Most hosts never go through any background checks.

#3 Low security

Not only are their sites full of bugs, but it’s very easy to fake Airbnb.

With a bit of creativity, you could create a fake phishing site and bring people there via email and messaging. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened this year.

Especially in the travel season, you should pick as many options as possible. For every ten properties you like, less than half of those could be fake, duplicated, outdated listings (or placed by mistake).

If you contact, but nobody responds to your messages, you may assume the property isn’t available (or doesn’t exist!).

Although you can prevent falling for a scam, you can’t avoid these people unless you contact and find these Airbnb red flags. And as soon as Airbnb detects some suspicious activity, they may deactivate both the guest and seller account regardless of the fault.

#4 Unreliable review system

Unless you look above 25 reviews, you will find every single rated listing with five stars. Does it mean they are all amazing hosts? Perhaps, but it’s more likely their family and friends have a lot to do with it. Or when a guest is about to leave, they ask them for a five-star review in exchange for a cash discount. Nobody has to know it!

Most people won’t boot unless there are more than ten positive reviews. Having so few is not different from having none. Instead, look for higher numbers and check the most recent.

Some guests may find problems when they arrive but then try to be polite with a four-star review. The moment many people are mentioning the same problem, even if it’s without much importance, you know it’s a big one.

Because people get along well, guests may talk in private about what they don’t like but not share that in the reviews.

Although it’s not enough, a recent improvement allows guests to rate hosts after canceling for quality reasons.

When The “Cheaper” Option Becomes The Costliest

Many get into Airbnb because of its low prices. The site popularity has attracted more hosts, which means more chances to find the right place.

You could hope that those listings are telling the truth. But if they aren’t, don’t expect Airbnb to save the situation, no matter how unfair it is.

Let’s see some of the common rip-offs that guests experience when picking the wrong host:

#1 Host demands cash

Although it’s not a scam itself, it’s a lure to catch guests unprotected. Not paying Airbnb means you aren’t working on their platform anymore: you’re just renting to a stranger.

As soon as you arrive there, the host may give excuses that require any other payment method and circumvent their internal escrow service.

  • We didn’t mean to add all those extras in our listing. If you want to include cleaning, amenities, and other extras, pay us for the rest in cash (Airbnb cannot refund that).
  • We can offer you a discount for paying in cash. We will cancel the stay on the site, but you can pay us for a lower price.

This last scenario can be problematic. The host may tell you that via messaging instead: “We confirm your stay in our property. To get the cash discount, cancel your Airbnb stay and visit us on the same date you planned. When you arrive, you just pay us in cash and enjoy the stay.”

Red flags:

  • Airbnb doesn’t like guests who cancel way too often, neither hosts.
  • There’s no guarantee the address is legit, the property exists, or is as described. 
  • They may charge you the same price anyway. They keep the Airbnb fee for themselves, and you have no refund protection.

Perhaps they make you this offer in person, and they seem to be indeed trustworthy, likable people. But no matter the hospitality, don’t expect good intentions when someone asks for cash. Any off-site payment should be a big No.

#2 Blackmailing

Here’s why you can’t trust reviews: hosts incentivize positive feedback, and guests may threaten with bad reviews to get a free service.

You have to find to hear both versions: what clients think and how honest the host is when you contact them.

Sometimes, you could find tricky situations. Say you book some property but later have a change of heart. If you have canceled many times before, canceling this time may mean a partial refund (it’s been more than 24h since you booked).

So you ask the host to cancel it for you. But they usually won’t, because doing so may cost them money or affect negatively. You either lose money or keep the reservation.

Blackmailing becomes a real possibility when you choose to pay 100% in cash. Then, the host has full control: how to treat you and your belongings. Even if you gather proof of low service quality, no-one will see it.

#3 Airbnb Rental Arbitrage

Arbitrage is about buying low and selling high. Why would someone buy high? Maybe because of brand identity, or because the cheaper business isn’t as reliable.

So who do we trust here? Airbnb? No, hosts have the control. Then, doesn’t it make sense to look for the best deal? Why not compare prices and save over 10% on the same listing?

Arbitrage is fun except when you’re the one buying high. If your host profile shows dozens of listings under their name, they may be in the arbitrage business.

Airbnb doesn’t have a problem with that. But as a guest, it can make things complicated. Who’s the owner? What’s the real price? If the owner changes the offer, how will the intermediary update the listing? There’s no way to know what you will find.

You will very likely find that the property or offer isn’t the one advertised. But if you’re already in the property, you’re essentially deciding between taking an offer you don’t like or staying on the street.

To make it more confusing, think that if someone makes money from it, there’s probably more than one person offering the same property. That’s why Airbnb is full of fake or duplicated listings.

We don’t consider it a scam, but it’s neither the best way to book on Airbnb. Don’t you want the best traveling experience?

#4 Host changes a confirmed reservation

From all the listings of the page, you find one that looks amazing for almost half of the price. Thinking you got lucky, you reserve it to avoid missing out.

A while later, you receive a message from your future host. “The price was wrong or outdated. The real one is this (30-100% higher) because of the travel season. If you don’t accept, you should cancel this reservation”.

Price variations are even more common when dealing with rental arbitrage hosts. After explaining why you can’t get the property for the lower price, they may offer you another one for a similar cost.

In the end, what you pay for has nothing to do with what you expected. Sounds familiar? 

Bait-and-switch scams. Or should we call them confidence tricks?

Likewise, the host may update the listing for whatever reason. If you reserved in advance, you might find your property with fewer features than you saw months ago. The listing may haven’t changed, but the house did. If they don’t update you about it before you go traveling, it may lead to disappointments.

#5 Host falsifies damages

This scam gets you twice. First, you arrive at a place that’s different from the listing. They took professional pictures and cleverly hidden imperfections.

Let’s assume you ignore that fact and stay anyway. When it’s time to leave the property, the owner may blame you for those damages. Do you have proof they were already there when you came? If not, nobody will trust your word. Airbnb may demand extra money to cover those costs or ban your guest account.

In more rare scenarios, the host may damage the hidden areas of a room when travelers aren’t at home. Even superficial damage can cost a decent amount.

Most likely, they will blame you for the defects their property already had.

#6 Not as described

We wish there were an option to make a video tour or ask the host to show the property. Listings can create wrong expectations about what the property should be. Perhaps you like the features, but you later find at the room something nobody mentioned:

  • The accommodation isn’t clean.
  • Unexpected animals present.
  • Undisclosed noisy roommates.

The place may be right, but the description of the property isn’t accurate. You expected to leave near groceries, transportation, and restaurants. But the location is wrong or hard to reach.

Incentivized hosts often exaggerate the features of their property. They want to show you the best image of a place, but what you don’t see in those photos matters more than what you do. If they don’t mention something, don’t assume they included it. It’s not.

  • Missing amenities
  • Smaller space than expected
  • Photos and descriptions don’t match reality

#7 Fake scam emails

As a rule of thumb, you should only use emails to update on the status of your subscriptions, never as a tool. If you signed up with a company and they want to send you a call to action (CTA), they should inform you via email, but tell you the steps to take on their platform. They don’t place the CTA in their emails.

Nothing can go wrong when you log in to your account (unless someone is doing DNS poisoning). But when clicking a link coming from “an Airbnb address,” it can lead you anywhere. It may look like the site you intended to visit but has nothing to do with the official one.

Fake Airbnb emails are usually generic about the reason they’re contacting. Perhaps they mention an unexpected problem (a canceled reservation, a refund program, account security issues), but you can’t find any evidence when you log in.

If you asked Airbnb about these messages (if they ever reply), they might not relate to those claims. It sounds sad, but you know an Airbnb is fake when you respond to it, and a real person follows up within minutes with no automated emails in between.

These messages may ask you to confirm a failed payment due to technical errors or re-submit your documents for verification (aka identity theft).

Someone who can access your account may make reservations you didn’t intend, draining your bank account. What you may hear next is that Airbnb has deactivated your account.

Hover over those links to know where they lead or paste them on link-reveal pages; check who’s sending the message and look for any format mistakes. For a complete guide about phishing, go here.

#8 Fake Scam Websites

A scammer sends you a fake Airbnb site to get your money and ID information. If you use Airbnb on the phone, you may find fake phishing apps. “A new version of Airbnb is available. Install it via this link. Early testers receive a $20 bonus.” Who writes these emails?

You may find some pages not working, broken links, or log-in screens popping up all the time. Faking a company website could be as easy as buying a template online for $30.

They will bring you to that site either by luring with free money or warning you about a fake risk with your account. You know you’re in a different website when you appear logged out, or 

Why Airbnb Could Still Be Worth It

Besides the risks, we cannot deny the advantages of using Airbnb. Many of these scams may sound tragic, but as long as you take preventive action, you shouldn’t have any problems. Any company will likely disappoint you at least once, no matter the preparation. But they wouldn’t have become so successful if they weren’t doing things right.

#1 You have experience with Airbnb

If you’ve worked with many hosts and you know what you’re doing, you may benefit more from Airbnb than anyone else. Have you tried it in different companies? Have you met people who were both hosts and active guests?

You probably shouldn’t be doing Airbnb if this is your first trip, or you never used it before. If you do and still want the best vacations, be more strict with listing filters: maybe above 50 reviews and 4.8 stars.

#2 You pay attention to detail

You will be disappointed if you instantly book and expect to find what the listing promised. It should be that way, but unless you contact the host, you don’t know.

Make sure you ask enough questions, especially about those things they don’t mention. Before you book, tell them to confirm each feature of the listing in case they did by accident.

  • Does the price change in the travel season?
  • Do you include amenities and cleaning fees?
  • What kind of damages does the property have?
  • How many people can stay with us?

#3 Have a backup plan

After booking hundreds of times, at least one of those will be terrible. If you don’t want to stay in a new city with no place to live, we suggest you make multiple reservations. 

If one fails, you can take your second or third best option. Once you find your place, you cancel the other ones. Maybe you don’t need to reserve it officially. You could ask the host to hold the property for you until you confirm (and you pay a slightly higher price).

We hope Airbnb listens to its customers and makes changes soon. Even if that doesn’t happen, you can still find amazing hosts when you travel.

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