Beware of Airbnb scams
By Randy Hutchinson
President of the BBB Reprinted from The Jackson Sun
The BBB has warned consumers for years about phony rental listings on Craigslist. Crooks copy rental listings from other sites and post them on Craigslist at a very attractive price. When a prospective tenant responds to the ad, he’s told the seller is out of the country and that the keys will be sent to him once he wires the money for a deposit. He wires the money; he gets no keys.
Researchers at New York University say that Craigslist fails to identify more than half of phony listings and that suspicious postings remain on the site for up to 20 hours before being removed. In a review of 2 million listings, they found 29,000 fakes in 20 major cities.
Airbnb describes itself as “a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world.” It has over 3 million listings worldwide, in over 65,000 cities in more than 191 countries, and has accommodated over 200 million guests.
Given its growing prominence in the rental property market, it was inevitable that Airbnb’s name and reputation would be exploited by scammers. People have reported losing tens of thousands of dollars booking properties that weren’t for rent at all or not by the party the victim dealt with.
CBS reported the case of a fellow who thought he’d booked the perfect vacation for his himself, his wife and their 2-year old. It was a fairy tale villa on an island in the Mediterranean. The property had a swimming pool and could accommodate the three families who would be sharing the cost.
When the first family arrived at the villa, the owners were there and advised the property was not for rent. They were the third group to arrive that month thinking they’d rented the villa.
A woman from Barcelona rented two apartments on Fifth Avenue in New York, only to be told by the doorman when she arrived that there were no rental properties. She was in town to buy a wedding dress and ended up having to buy a cheaper one because of the additional cost she incurred for other accommodations.
The common element in these scams is that the transaction wasn’t consummated on Airbnb’s website. While the consumers started out there, the crooks sent them a link to another, fraudulent website. The crooks use the Airbnb logo, send invoices that look legitimate, include phony guarantees, and instruct consumers to pay via wire transfer or some other untraceable method. Once the money is sent, it’s lost.
On its website, Airbnb says that fake listings are rare and cites the many defenses a scammer must penetrate to post one. All consumers need to do to protect themselves is stay on the Airbnb website, from communicating to booking to making payment. The company doesn’t release funds to the host until after check-in, which gives both parties time to be sure everything is right.
In a related scam, the consumer finds the listing on another website and is advised by the crook that he’s out of the country and has engaged Airbnb to manage the property for him. From that point on, the scam proceeds as described above.