On a recent Reddit thread, u/brunoflourenco shared their experience with an Airbnb listing in London — which turned out to be a fake. “We get there, knock on the door, the guy comes out and looks really confused,” they wrote. “We tell him that we are the Airbnb guests, he sighs and says, ‘Guys, the thing is you got scammed. You’re the third person that comes here looking for this Airbnb, but it doesn’t exist.’”
Stories like these are scarily common. On AirbnbHell.com—a website dedicated to travellers’ horror stories with the rental site—several users have shared their stories of knocking on the door of a rental only to be greeted by a confused homeowner. How can you avoid a similar fate? Always do your research, verify the listing, and never, ever pay the host directly. (Trust us.)
Reverse image search the property’s photos and verify the host
As we’ve written before, when a listing looks a little too good to be true, do a simple reverse image search using Google. If you find images of the property splashed across stock photo websites, it’s a good indication you’ve stumbled upon a scam. You could even reverse image search the host’s profile photo if one’s available.
“About two weeks ago we were paid a visit by a gentleman knocking on our door asking for ‘Richard,’” one user wrote on AirbnbHell.com. “Whoever had set up the fictitious Airbnb account had swiped photos of our home off of VRBO and populated them into the made-up account.”
In this example, it’s possible the user may not have verified whether the host on Airbnb matched that of the listing on VRBO. If you find your listing elsewhere, you should contact the hosts independently.
Also, check your host’s profile. Look to see whether Airbnb has verified that they’ve uploaded a genuine government ID or given them a “Superhost” badge, which means they’ve maintained an overall high rating from guests. There’s a good chance you’re not being scammed if either of these appear on a profile.
Pay attention to details provided in the property photos, too, including any visible addresses or names of restaurants. At the very least, you can do a little research and find out if the listing’s location is everything that’s being promised. Otherwise, when the host provides the address, look at the unit online and check to verify both the host and the listing in photos.
Look at the quality of the reviews
Of course, the single easiest way to make sure you have a legitimate listing is to examine the reviews. A lot of reviews is always better than a few, particularly if they’re mostly positive. Sort for any critical reviews and those that mention a bad experience with the host. And be sure to check for cancellation notifications, too; when a host cancels for any reason, a notification will automatically appear in reviews of their property. A high number of cancellations isn’t necessarily a sign of a scam, but it is an indication your host may flake on you last-minute.
And if a host asks you to cancel, well, that could be a scam, too. Over on one Reddit thread, a host asked a guest to cancel their reservation as it was suddenly “unavailable.” If a host cancels, you’re usually provided a refund or an account credit; if you cancel, however, you’re lucky to get anything and subject to that listing’s cancellation policy. Instead, reach out to Airbnb’s customer support if you’re ever asked to cancel your stay.
And if the listing has few or no reviews, check to see if they have reviews for other properties. Look at the description of the listing and whether it’s detailed enough to seem legitimate. Otherwise, be up front and ask the host why the listing has no reviews. Maybe it’s just a new listing, which is entirely possible.
Don’t book via email or pay directly to the host
On another Reddit thread, one user detailed his friend’s experience with a last-minute cancellation by a host. “Two days before arriving to Amsterdam, he gets a message through Airbnb, stating that the host is not [able to rent out] anymore in the Netherlands due to some illness,” he said. “He offers to help by giving you another room/apartment, of course outside AirBnb and with different prices and paid only by cash.”
There are a lot of red flags here, aside from the last-minute cancellation. For one, you should never pay directly to a host or through third-party payment sites. If you pay through Airbnb, there’s a greater chance they’ll get you some kind of refund if you’re involved in a scam. (Pay through a third-party site and you might not reap the same benefits.) Scammers may even incentivise you by offering an “advance payment”; in exchange for paying directly to them or through another payment site, they’ll offer you some kind of discount.
Again, don’t give in. You should never really communicate with your host outside of Airbnb’s direct messaging system, particularly regarding payment. If there’s an issue with your Airbnb, their customer support will rely on messages sent between you and your host to help resolve it. When you interact via email, you don’t have the same protection. Of course, there are exceptions; sometimes a host might contact you via email to obtain a copy of your passport or just provide directions. In these instances, it might be fine to talk on email, but be cautious about clicking on any links, as phishing scams on Airbnb are pretty common.
Be careful of any links and book travel on a credit card
Over on Huffington Post, writer Sarah Ruiz-Grossman shared her story of losing $US3,800 ($5,623) in a phishing scam; in short, she reached out to a prospective host who recommended another listing of theirs on Airbnb’s website—which turned out to be a website that only looked like Airbnb’s. “Their site has the Airbnb logo and the design matches Airbnb’s to a T,” she wrote. “The URLs almost looked legit—they said ‘airbnb.intinerary-booking.com,’ and the difference went right over our heads. Who looks that closely at URLs?” (She has a point.)
As Airbnb recommends on its website, be careful of any links that misspell or misuse Airbnb’s URL to closely resemble it. “A real link to Airbnb will begin with https://www.airbnb.com or a country-specific URL like https://es.airbnb.com or https://it.airbnb.com,” Airbnb’s website reads. “If you click a link that takes you to a page that looks like Airbnb but doesn’t start with this address, it’s a fraudulent page and you should close it.” Airbnb has a complete list of its domains on its website, so you can verify any site you might click on.
And if you want some additional protection, always book an Airbnb or rental property with a credit card; your card might provide travel insurance or issue a chargeback in the event you’re caught in the crosshairs of a scam.