We here at Lifehacker HQ have written a lot about the troubles associated with booking an Airbnb property. Worried hidden cameras are spying on you? We’ve covered it! Worried you’ve booked a fake listing? We’ve also covered it (a handful of times, in fact).
The problem with Airbnb is that the platform neglects to thoroughly vet at least some of the apartments and hosts that appear on its website. Accordingly, scams fall through the cracks and guests are the ones who (literally) pay—just ask the UK-based couple that fell for a lavish Airbnb property that didn’t even exist and nearly lost out on $12,000 in the process.
Or ask any of the guests who stayed at fake properties in Vice reporter Allie Conti’s recent story, which uncovered a nationwide scam perpetrated by some Airbnb hosts. (Let’s not forget that hosts, too, are vulnerable to scams. Over on Airbnbhell.com, a website of horror stories written by both hosts and guests, several hosts report having been conned themselves.)
After its report, Vice asked its readers to describe their own experience with Airbnb—and senior staff writer Anna Merlan pulled together a few of the most common Airbnb scams, among the nearly 1,000 emails they received.
And what have we learned from these scams? Well, scammers are clever and take advantage of Airbnb’s leniency when it comes to checking its listings. Below, a few common scams you might watch out for, as well as ways you can fix the situation as best as possible:
The “bait and switch”
You book a property with a host. Days (or even hours) before your scheduled arrival, your booked property is no longer available because of some unforeseen issue, be it plumbing problems or an apparent issue with the last guest who stayed there. To help, the host offers you another property they rent out, which is usually a shit box compared to the room you originally booked.
The solution: Refuse the alternative option and make sure the host cancels. (If you cancel, you are one responsible for paying associated cancelation fees.) Contact Airbnb to find alternative options, if you’re in a bind.
The money transfer
You message a host to inquire about a property of theirs. They request payment outside of Airbnb’s platform, possibly offering a better rate if you agree. In the end, the apartment is terrible, but because you agreed to a deal outside of Airbnb’s terms, you’re not protected and cannot qualify for a refund (or it’s a completely fake property and you’ve been swindled entirely).
The solution: Like we’ve written time and time again, never pay outside of Airbnb’s platform. (In fact, keep all messages to Airbnb as much as possible, so that they can use your message history to resolve any issues.)
After a multi-day stay, you leave the property in pristine condition. Days later, you receive a complaint via Airbnb’s messaging platform, either by the host or from Airbnb, which alleges that you’ve damaged something in the home and are responsible for compensating the host.
The solution: Take photos and videos of your property before leaving and send them to your host as a polite “thank you” and as a means of protecting yourself in the event they claim damages. Or keep them for your own safekeeping and include some timestamped proof, like a current newspaper or a message from your host confirming your departure. (In fact, you should also get in the habit of taking photos of your property immediately upon arrival and sending any issues to your host; perhaps the damages are legitimate but the guest before you is responsible.)
To see the rest of the results, be sure to check out Merlan’s post on Vice. And if you want to read up on what to do if your Airbnb might be illegal or just really terrible, we can offer some guidance there, too.