Just last month, we wrote about a couple that was swindled out of nearly $17,000 on Airbnb because of a phony listing. But according to a report by senior staff writer Allie Conti for Vice—who fell victim to a scam played on Airbnb users in several major cities—scammers on the platform are becoming a hell of a lot more clever.
“The call came about 10 minutes before we were set to check into the Airbnb,” Conti writes of her experience. “I was sitting at a brewery just around the corner from the rental on North Wood Street in Chicago when the man on the other end of the line said that our planned visit wouldn’t be possible. A previous guest had flushed something down the toilet, which had left the unit flooded with water, he explained. Apologetic, he promised to let us stay in another property he managed until he could call a plumber.”
As you can probably guess, despite being promised a “bigger” unit and securing an agreement from the host in writing, that other property ended up being significantly worse than she imagined. “While, at three levels, it was quite big, almost everything else seemed off ... The whole place felt grimy, and there was a hole punched in a wall.” In the end, she booked a hotel and was only refunded a partial amount from Airbnb (just $580 of nearly $1,750).
In her report, Conti also spoke to several other guests who’d dealt with similar instances, ultimately putting the pieces together to uncover a scam in which rental companies pose as “normal” homeowners; using these false identities, they create phoney listings and profit when guests change reservations last-minute. If they do get reported, there’s no reason they can’t start all over again, given that Airbnb apparently doesn’t vet profiles comprehensively enough.
If you’re more concerned than ever about using Airbnb now, there are a few key takeaways you can learn from this story. (Also, there’s no reason to quit Airbnb altogether, just yet.) First, it’s important to contact Airbnb to inform them of the circumstances if a host suddenly changes their mind—which probably isn’t the advice you’re looking for after arriving from a long flight, but it’s for your protection.
If ever a host asks you to change your reservation to another of their listings, and especially last-minute, know that you do not have go through with it. “If you’re not ok with a switch or your host is asking you to switch without officially changing the reservation on Airbnb, ask the host to cancel your reservation so you can get a full refund or find another home that better accommodates your stay,” Airbnb’s website reads.
If they don’t willingly cancel, again, contact Airbnb directly. If you cancel without informing them, you might be on the hook for some kind of cancellation fee. As Vice points out, and as we’ve mentioned before, it’s hard to claim any kind of refund for your stay after 24 hours, too.
As Conti experienced, you should always get everything in writing and maintain conversations regarding your stay on Airbnb’s direct messaging platform. When settling disputes, Airbnb will rely on your messaging history to build your case.
And while “verified” profiles might be a sign that you’re working with a reputable host, it appears—as demonstrated by Vice’s story—that Airbnb isn’t so strict with its actual verification standards. Reading reviews, therefore, is critical and perhaps more important than a verified profile. And be sure to scroll to the very bottom to read old reviews of properties; Conti mentions finding a name that didn’t match up with more recent reviews, which confirmed her suspicions of a phony profile.