10 Airbnb Scams That Will Ruin Your Next Vacation

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Andrew Nechiporuk

Marketer Fighting Against Scammers

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    Is Airbnb Really That Safe?

    That was the question data scientist Asher Fergusson wanted to answer when he analyzed more than 127,000 complaints from Airbnb customers on Twitter [*]. 

    The result? Nearly a quarter of all complaints involved Airbnb scams — from multiple listings, to account hacks, and fake reviews.

    Reading these results, I wasn’t surprised.

    In November 2021, my wife and I were scammed out of more than €300 and left temporarily homeless due to a deceitful Airbnb host in Barcelona [*]. While Airbnb support eventually helped us recover our stolen funds, we were still forced to find an alternative place to stay at the last minute. 

    With over four million hosts on Airbnb’s platform, there are bound to be at least a few unscrupulous hosts looking to scam unsuspecting travelers. So how can you stay safe during your next getaway? 

    Before you book your next trip, be on the lookout for these 10 common Airbnb scams.

    The 10 Most Common Airbnb Scams in the U.S.

    1. Multiple listings scam
    2. Deceptive or inaccurate property descriptions
    3. Doctored images
    4. Airbnb account hacking
    5. Fake reviews
    6. Payments outside the platform
    7. Incredulous pricing
    8. Illegal listings
    9. Bogus damage fees
    10. Hidden cameras

    What are Airbnb scams?

    Airbnb scams include false advertising and manipulating the platform to charge extra fees (such as for “incidentals” or “management fees”), obtain a guest’s payment information, and discriminate against guests.

    Top scams by category based on real reviews from Airbnb users on Twitter.
    Top scams by category based on real reviews from Airbnb users on Twitter. [Source: Asher & Lyric]

    Here’s a closer look at the top 10 scams on Airbnb, how they work, and how to avoid them:

    1. Multiple listings scam

    Spot the scam: 

    The multiple listings scam occurs when a host lists the same property at different price points to double-book and then rent the property to the highest bidder. 

    If you reserve the property at one of the lower prices and someone else rents it at the higher rate, your host may cancel on you at the last minute. Alternatively, the host may use this as a “bait-and-switch” tactic to move you to an inferior property. 

    A tweet showing two identical Airbnb properties listed at different prices.
    A tweet showing two identical Airbnb properties listed at different prices. [Source: @JBwrench]
    Here’s what to do: 

    Don’t cancel your reservation. Instead, make sure your host is the one who cancels. 

    Airbnb offers full refunds for host cancellations [*]. But if you cancel, you could be left paying cancellation fees or even the majority of your full reservation. If they reach out to tell you there’s a problem with the property or ask you to stay in a “similar” location they also own, don’t cancel for them. 

    To avoid this scam, remove the price filter from your search to see if a property is listed at different prices. If it is, don’t book it.

    Related: 45 Fraud Prevention Tips: How To Avoid Scammers in 2022

    2. Deceptive or inaccurate property descriptions

    Spot the scam:

    The second most common Airbnb scam cited in the study involved inaccurate descriptions of properties and amenities. In other words, if you show up to an Airbnb only to find missing amenities or that the property is in much worse condition than described. 

    In one example, a man in Sarasota rented his property 19 times, bringing in $53,000 [*]. But the $828-a-night beach property didn’t have air-conditioning or internet and was even infested with cockroaches. Airbnb has since blocked the host from its platform and issued a full refund to the renters. 

    Here’s what to do:

    To avoid inaccurate property description scams in the first place, do your research before arriving at your rental. Message your host for specific information about the amenities and cleaning rules, and observe their responses. 

    Use Zillow’s advanced search to find and compare your vacation rental from Airbnb.
    Use Zillow’s advanced search to find and compare your vacation rental from Airbnb. [Source: Zillow]

    You can also search the property address on Google Maps or websites like Zillow.com to see if the descriptions and images match.

    3. Doctored images

    Spot the scam:

    Airbnb scammers will often use fake, stock, or doctored images to misrepresent their rental property. 

    Screenshot of an Airbnb review.
    Screenshot of an Airbnb review. [Source: Airbnb]

    All too common are photos using angles and lenses to make spaces appear larger,  as well as photoshopped amenities and scenic views that aren’t real. 

    Here’s what to do:

    To avoid this scam, head to the reviews section and look at the “Accuracy” category. You can also find specific bad reviews by selecting “See All Reviews” and then searching for terms like “photos,” “images,” or “accurate.” 

    Finally, if you’re suspicious of a listing, perform a reverse image search of the photos. Copy the images and run them through Google or TinEye.com to see if they’ve been used on other websites or show up as listings of different properties. 

    4. Airbnb account hacking

    Spot the scam:

    In addition to misrepresenting properties, scammers on Airbnb may hack into your account and book properties using your stolen financial information. The person who hacks your account will change the login credentials to lock you out, making this scam a type of identity theft.

    A customer complaint about a fake Airbnb listing.
    A customer complaint about a fake Airbnb listing. [Source: Airbnb Community Center]

    Although account hacks are not the most common scams, they can be some of the most damaging. Victims of this particular con can lose tens of thousands of dollars and have their accounts closed or blocked before the platform intervenes.

    Here’s what to do:

    The most common way for a hacker to get into your Airbnb account is to trick you into giving them your login information and password. They might pose as a legitimate host and send you a link to book their property. But in reality, the link takes you outside Airbnb to a similar-looking site that asks for your information. 

    To protect your account and financial information, always check the website URL before entering your login credentials. Make sure the URL begins with “https://” and only includes “airbnb.com.” 

    If you see an address like “airbnb1.com” or “airbnb-bookings.com,” don’t enter your information. 

    Finally, here’s a list of all legitimate Airbnb domains: 

    • @airbnb.com
    • @airbnbaction.com
    • @airbnblove.com
    • @airbnbmail.com
    • @support-email.airbnb.com
    • @supportmessaging.airbnb.com
    • @airbnb.zendesk.com
    • @e.airbnb.com
    • @express.medallia.com
    • @ext.airbnb.com
    • @guest.airbnb.com
    • @host.airbnb.com
    • @noreply@qemailserver.com
    • @outreach.airbnb.com
    • @research.airbnb.com

    Pro tip: Use Aura’s antivirus software to warn you if you’re being taken to a site that will steal your personal information. 

    Aura antivirus software
    [Source: Aura antivirus with phishing protection]

    5. Fake reviews

    Spot the scam:

    Customer reviews help create trust for renters using home-sharing websites. Unfortunately, con artists can manipulate reviews as part of their fraud. Hosts may create fake accounts, review their own properties, or enlist friends and families to help. 

    Conversely, competitors might leave negative reviews on other hosts' properties, making it even harder for you to discern what's true. 

    Here’s what to do:

    To avoid booking a poor rental, choose those with more reviews — it’s harder to fake large numbers of reviews. Also, pay close attention to the two, three, and four-star reviews. These are less likely to be written by friends or competition. 

    You can also load all the reviews and use the search feature to get the information you care about most. For example, you can search "family" to see if the rental is appropriate for hosting kids. Or, you can search for "Wi-Fi" if you know you'll need to work from your rental. 

    6. Payments outside the platform

    Spot the scam:

    All payments and communications should take place via the Airbnb app or website. If you receive a message from a host asking you to pay through another (non-Airbnb) app, bank transfer, or another website, it’s a scam. 

    Beware of phishing emails purporting to be from Airbnb. [Source: Airbnb Community Center]

    You may end up sending money to a host who doesn’t have a real listing; or the host might receive double payment since you’ll likely get charged on the Airbnb website, too.

    Here’s what to do:

    If you come across a host that wants payment outside of Airbnb, consider this a red flag and report the suspicious message to Airbnb

    If the message comes over email, make sure that it’s from one of the email domains listed above. Lastly, look for the signs of a phishing email, including misspelled words, grammatical errors, and threatening or urgent language. Don’t click on any links or send your personal information if you're unsure about an email.

    Pro tip: Sign up for a credit monitoring service that can alert you of potential fraud. For example, Aura monitors your bank, credit card, and other financial information and will alert you in near-real time of suspicious activity. 

    Aura credit monitoring with fraud alerts
    [Source: Aura credit monitoring with fraud alerts]

    Related: How To Tell If An Email Is From a Scammer [With Examples]

    7. Incredulous pricing

    Spot the scam:

    Airbnb started off as a more affordable way to stay in cities around the world. With some destinations, you can save more than $200 per night by booking an Airbnb rental instead of a hotel.

    Cost comparison: Hotel vs. private room.
    Cost comparison: Hotel vs. private room. [Source: Upgraded Points]

    Unfortunately, fraudsters can use your desire for a deal to trick you into paying for a scam. 

    A too-good-to-be-true price is a huge red flag you shouldn’t ignore —it might mean that the home is not as described, the location is undesirable, or the listing doesn’t exist.

    Here’s what to do: 

    When you see a great deal on an Airbnb listing, check that the host has posted photos of all rooms in the house, including bathrooms. To avoid fake listings, look up the address or neighborhood on Google Maps to verify the location. And finally, steer clear of great deals that include very few reviews. 

    8. Illegal listings

    Spot the scam:

    Several cities, like New York and Las Vegas, have laws limiting the use of short-term rentals and home-sharing services. Short-term Airbnb rentals might be illegal in entire cities or specific neighborhoods [*].

    Here’s what to do: 

    Guests who book illegal rentals might pay for the booking only to arrive and be told by the building’s security staff that short-term stays are prohibited. The unsuspecting guests are then stuck to pay for a hotel stay (in addition to the illegal rental) [*].

    While Airbnb may end up refunding part of your booking, the process can be time-consuming, and there's no guarantee they'll pay for your additional hotel costs. If you're staying at an Airbnb for a few days, do a quick search of your destination's laws.

    9. Bogus damage fees

    Spot the scam:

    Damage fees protect homeowners from guests who don’t properly care for the property while renting. But some Airbnb hosts have taken advantage of this feature.

    An example of an Airbnb host claiming a guest’s security deposit for items alleged to have been broken by the guest.
    An example of an Airbnb host claiming a guest’s security deposit for items alleged to have been broken by the guest. [Source: Culture Passport]

    In this type of scam, you’ll check out of your rental unit and receive a message notifying you about damage that you didn’t cause. If you refuse to pay, the host can escalate the issue with Airbnb, which can then use security deposits to pay for the damage or refer the dispute to a collection agency. 

    Here’s what to do: 

    To protect yourself from this scam, take pictures or videos of the property right after check-in and before check-out. If you notice any damage upon arrival, take photos and share them with the host directly on Airbnb.

    10. Hidden cameras

    Spot the scam:

    According to Airbnb’s official policy, hosts can place cameras and security recording devices in common spaces as long as hosts disclose these devices to renters [*]. Hosts cannot use hidden cameras or recording devices to monitor private areas, such as bathrooms and bedrooms. 

    Unfortunately, not every host will follow the rules. It’s essential to know how to search for and identify hidden cameras when you travel. This can also be a concern when you stay in a hotel room. 

    Here’s what to do:

    Watch this video for steps on how to sweep your vacation rental for cameras: 

    In particular, check anything plugged into outlets located in private areas. Cameras can be disguised as phone chargers, Wi-Fi routers, and lights. 

    How To Avoid Airbnb Scams

    1. Do your due diligence
    2. Stick with “official” discounts and offers
    3. Stay and pay on the platform
    4. Consider Airbnb Plus
    5. Ask for virtual tours
    6. Do a reverse image search
    7. Confirm it’s a legal listing
    8. Safeguard your account from scammers and hackers
    9. Avoid last-minute bookings

    In 2019, Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky, vowed to verify all 7 million listings on the home-sharing platform [*]. But while this is a positive sign for Airbnb renters, it doesn’t mean that all hosts have your best interests in mind. 

    Here are the steps you can take to avoid bad experiences with your next vacation rental.

    1. Do your due diligence

    Doing your homework isn’t just necessary when you rent a new listing. Verify all the information you can, even when renting from a Superhost. 

    Carefully review the home information, photos, and the host’s profile for any red flags. If you’re renting from a company with multiple listings, check their social media profile for complaints or bad reviews. 

    As a general rule, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

    2. Stick with “official” discounts and offers

    Many scams succeed because customers ignore suspicious information while trying to find a deal. If you’re looking for a discount, stick with offers from Airbnb partners like the Delta SkyMiles program [*].

    A Delta and Airbnb promotion example.
    A Delta and Airbnb promotion example. [Source: deltaairbnb.com]

    Check with credit card providers or well-known airlines to see if you can access member benefits.

    3. Stay and pay on the platform

    The more communication and activity you maintain on Airbnb.com, the better. Don’t pay your host using wire transfers, PayPal, or other payment apps. If a host requests payment outside of Airbnb, you should report them. 

    Related: Smishing Defined & Explained: With Examples

    4. Consider Airbnb Plus

    Airbnb offers added verification on their end through the Airbnb Plus program [*]. Homes with the “plus” icon offer thoughtful design, well-equipped amenities, and have passed in-person inspections. You can also search for Airbnb luxury homes, which must be approved following a 300-point inspection [*].

    5. Ask for virtual tours

    If you’ve found a great deal and want some final reassurance, consider asking the host for a virtual tour. Airbnb does not allow videos on their listing pages, but you can request one when you message the host. 

    6. Do a reverse image search

    To avoid being misled by stock images, use a reverse image search tool like TinEye.com. You can upload the suspicious image and find out if it’s been taken from another website (like VRBO or another vacation rental site). 

    Tineye reverse image search

    If the only images found on the reverse search come from the Airbnb listing, that’s a good sign that the images are legitimate.

    7. Confirm it’s a legal listing

    Some destinations require Airbnb property owners to have a business license or registration number. If you’re traveling to an international location, Customs may ask for this license to verify your stay. Have this information handy so that you reduce the risk of showing up and then finding out you can’t use the Airbnb you’ve already reserved.

    8. Safeguard your account from scammers and hackers

    Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to safeguard your Airbnb account from scammers. This can help stop them from taking over your account by adding an extra layer of security.

    You can also use a credit card protection service like Aura, which monitors your credit and offers a credit lock to prevent financial losses in case of fraud.

    Pro tip: Check to see if your passwords, SSN, or other personal information has been leaked to the Dark Web by using Aura’s Identity Guard Dark Web scanner.

    Aura Identity Guard Dark Web scanner

    9. Avoid last-minute bookings

    No one can avoid last-minute bookings altogether. But booking ahead of time whenever possible helps you avoid scams. You’ll have more time to do your research, and fraudulent hosts will have a harder time rushing you to book something that’s not what it seems. And the farther ahead you book, the more options you have available.

    Airbnb Scams Are Here To Stay — Protect Yourself

    Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky put it best when he said, “With Airbnb, people are sleeping in other people’s homes…so there’s a level of trust that’s necessary to participate that’s different from eBay or Facebook.”

    Trust between homeowners and travel renters has been strong enough to generate billions of dollars in revenue for Airbnb each year [*]. However, the company’s undoubtable success doesn’t mean that every rental property owner operates honestly. 

    You can’t guarantee that every detail of your vacation will be perfect. But you can avoid the travel nightmares that come with Airbnb rental scams. It all starts with knowing what to look for — and doing your homework so that you can book your rental from one of the many trustworthy hosts on Airbnb. 

    For added protection against hackers, scammers, and identity theft, consider signing up for Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution.

    Ready for ironclad identity theft protection? Try Aura 14-Days Free!

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers