The INSIDER Summary:
- Millions of people use Airbnb’s platform around the world.
- Many have fallen victim to increasingly clever and sophisticated scams.
- A sure sign you’re getting scammed is if a host asks you to email or wire them money outside of Airbnb’s site.
Since it launched in August 2008, Airbnb has built a user-friendly, trusted platform that connects travelers with affordable, homey, and often beautiful rentals. Currently, the site has more than three million listings in over 191 countries and 65,000 cities.
Here’s the good news: By following these five golden rules — some of which are recommended by Airbnb itself — you can avoid falling victim to a scam that will cost you thousands and leave you stranded during your next vacation.
1. Always make sure you’re on the real Airbnb website
Online scams are sometimes so professionally done that you don’t realize you’re being scammed until it’s too late. Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at Huffington Post found this out the hard way.
Increasingly sophisticated, phishing schemes are ones in which cybercriminals send emails that trick you into revealing personal information or sending money — usually by clicking on a link or downloading malicious software. In Ruiz-Grossman’s case, the con artist’s link took her to a fake Airbnb site where she booked and paid for a nonexistent listing.
To avoid such scams, always double check the URL when you’re using Airbnb’s platform. Airbnb’s real URL will always begin with “https.” (Simply put, “https” means that any personal information you reveal will be secure since the site’s data is encrypted.) To compare, the fake site Ruiz-Grossman used was “www.airbnb.itinerary-booking.com.”
You should also watch out for features that the real Airbnb site does not have, such as Live Chat Support.
2. Do not, under any circumstances, wire money to a potential host
Airbnb prohibits hosts from asking you to pay them using something other than the site’s built-in payment page. So no matter how legitimate or trustworthy a potential host may seem, if they ask you wire them money outside the Airbnb platform, it’s a safe bet you’re being scammed. The same goes for hosts who ask you to use a money transfer service such as Western Union.
Don’t take this policy lightly. The second you pay someone outside Airbnb’s website, the company is no longer liable for any money you lose from that point forward.
3. Never email a potential host outside the Airbnb platform
By the same logic, you should also never contact a potential host outside the Airbnb platform, especially if they ask you to first. Even if a host’s profile checks out, their account may be hacked; a sure sign of this is if they want to communicate off the Airbnb platform. Leaving Airbnb’s site leaves you vulnerable to phishing schemes, as one victim describes:
A Swiss chalet was listed by a verified customer of AirBNB named “John.” He asked me to communicate via his yahoo account, and after some correspondence and agreed terms, he said I would receive a bill from Airbnb and would need to pay by wire transfer […] AirBNB has denied responsibility since I communicated offline with this person.
An easy way to tell that you’re being scammed is to check the email address of the emails you receive from the host. Airbnb only sends emails from 11 different addresses, so you should be on the lookout for fake emails such as “email@example.com.”
4. Vet every potential host, and don’t dismiss any less-than-stellar reviews
Every profile you see on Airbnb is verified through that person’s email, phone number, social media platforms, or photo ID. However, if a potential host has not written a detailed biography and does not have any reviews, you should play it safe and find someone more established on the site.
Even better, look for profiles with the Superhost badge, given to people who have hosted at least 10 times in the past year, have a 90% response rate within 24 hours, have earned 80% or more five-star reviews from guests, and have never canceled on a guest.
You should also take advantage of Airbnb’s messaging feature (available on both its site and mobile app) and talk to your host in real time. Trust your gut, and watch out for red flags such as evasive language or a lack of details about the listing. Airbnb will document these conversations, providing you with another layer of protection and accountability on the host’s part.
5. Read and understand Airbnb’s policy on refunds
Before you book any listing on Airbnb, you should be familiar with the company’s guest refund policy. Guests are only eligible for refunds under the following conditions:
- The host prevented you from accessing the listing you booked.
- The booked listing is different from the way it was described (e.g. number of bedrooms)
- The booked listing is dirty or unsafe, or has an animal that the host did not disclose beforehand.
If your situation meets these criteria, you must submit a claim for a refund within 24 hours of checking in, along with photos and other evidence of the issue.
Before you submit a claim, however, you must message your host on Airbnb to try and resolve the issue. If you do not take this step, Airbnb will not accept your claim.
Airbnb will also reject your claim if you don’t respond to requests for additional information, or if you directly or indirectly caused the issue.
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