Airbnb: 13 Ways to Lose Your Money

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What is a Scam?!

Airbnb is a great platform, and is changing the hotel industry because it makes renting a special place in a new city much easier. However, some bad guys scam Airbnb. Vice News wrote some articles about how they scam you. Sometimes it is by showing you photos of a nice apartment, but actually the apartment is terrible. Sometimes they try to get you to pay money outside the app. Other times hosts will say you damaged the apartment, and try to make you pay LOTS of extra money.

The Bait and Switch

This kind of scam is when somebody shows you a great product, gets you to give them the money, then give you a different product.

Bait and switch scams are super common. Airbnb users were promised one apartment, and arrived to find it was very different. Sometimes, the problem was bad photos that were nothing like the place the real place.

Other times, the host got them to change apartments or houses entirely, only to find that the new location was dirty, had no furniture, or in a totally different part of town.

1. The Plumbing Scam

An image of bathroom plumbing

People reserved an apartment or a house in cities both in the U.S. and abroad. Days or hours before the reservation was set to start, the host would tell them that the unit had developed a serious plumbing problem.

[I rented a place near Glass Beach and a few weeks prior to my trip when I asked about my reservation, the host told me she had a “plumbing problem” in the unit and she could see if she could put me in a larger place nearby. That never happened…] – California

The plumbing scam works because if the Airbnb cannot be lived in, hosts don’t need to pay for cancelling reservations. That is said clearly in Airbnb’s rules for hosts.

2. Making the Guests Move Houses

The plumbing scam sometimes this kind of scam.. Vice received many emails from people who said they’d been asked at the last minute to move to a new house or apartment, often told that the new one was bigger and better in every way. Spoiler: this was never the case.

The apartment was supposed to be … in downtown. Upon arrival… the “homeowner” [stopped us to] change properties at the last minute. … The new one was a smelly little apartment on the other side of town… It was time for check out. We were charged DOUBLE per night plus two cleaning fees… – Austin, TX

3. Booking the Airbnb to Many People at the Same Time

If you book the house or apartment and choose which days you want to stay, Airbnb does not let other people book on the same days… Some people told Vice News they found other Airbnb
guests at the house, or, sometimes people who lived there.

This is not something Airbnb can control from the app. If
the place is also listed on VRBO or another app or site, it can get double booked. And it’s not always the
hosts being bad guys: maybe they simply forgot it was already booked/reserved.

We rented a whole
house… for a weekend. When we arrived, the house was already full of people,
yet the owner would not give our money back… – California

Airbnb says
that while double bookings are “usually the result of honest mistakes… it leads
to a bad guest experience and so we do everything we can so guests can enjoy
their vacation.” They add:

If a guest shows up at a
listing to find that it’s been double-booked, we can support with a rebooking… Airbnb
would take care of the cost. If we can’t find a listing on our platform, we’ll
book in a hotel.

Money Scams

4. Paying Outside Airbnb

Another scam is hosts who ask Airbnb users to pay them in some other way: by check, Bitcoin, or another third-party payment app. There’s no reason to do this. Airbnb even tells users in their safety tips to beware of paying outside the app, one of the only scams they warn against. Airbnb told Vice, “We are an end-to-end platform, and the golden rule is to always book on the platform, pay on the platform, and communicate on the platform.”


5. Fake Damages

One of the truly difficult things for Airbnb to police are fake damages, because it’s true that at times, Airbnb guests do damage the places they stay: clogging plumbing, digging a hole in the yard to build a fire (another real email VICE received) or damaging carpets or furniture.

Sometimes, a host will charge for “cleaning fees”:

On the day I was checking out, I spilled a tiny amount of coffee (and I got most of it up with a towel)… I mention that I did this..

The host (who I believe never looked at the stain), tried to charge me $2000 for carpet cleaning, and eventually I was able to get this reduced to $375. – Mountain View, CA


Review Scams and Threats

The #1 goal for Airbnb hosts is to keep their five-star ratings and try to get Superhost status. To do this, they need at least a 4.8 overall rating and also have to do other stuff. Hosts—even really, really bad ones— often ask up-front for a five-star review no matter what the stay was really like.

6. Making Bad Reviews Go Away

Airbnb will hide or pull down reviews in certain very special situations— sometimes for good reason (if the guest never actually stayed there, for instance, or is clearly lying). But several people told us they felt that system had been used against them, used to keep their truthful complaints hidden.

The host created a photo of a fake text chat saying I “wanted my money back in exchange for a good review” and sent the photo to Airbnb. After contacting their support to explain my situation, Airbnb said that they already investigated and told me not to contact them anymore, case closed. – Location unspecified.

7. Must Review Within 2 Weeks

Sometimes Airbnb doesn’t solve guest issues quickly. If a guest doesn’t write a review within two weeks, they cannot write it. Several guests told us that as they talked with hosts and Airbnb for a refund, the two weeks they had to review their stay expired, and they were unable to leave one.

8. Trying to Scare Guests

Intimidation, or scaring a person into doing something for you…. This last one is less a “scam” and more just illegal. A small number of people described getting scary text messages after leaving a bad review:

I wrote a bad review and the host sent Whatsapp voice messages, saying they were in Lithuanian mafia. – Lithuania

Airbnb says:

Our review system is the most important thing. If a guest is asked either to not leave a review, leave a fake review, or feels that a host is trying to scare them, they should tell our team so that we can take action. They can easily contact our Customer Support team.

Hosts Have Bad/Scammy Experiences Too

The problems with Airbnb don’t just impact guests, however. We also heard from a large number of hosts. A common problem, one host told us, is around getting Airbnb to cover simple damages and repairs, or being penalized for necessary cancellations:

9. Guest smokes, denies it, 2nd guest goes in complains about smoke—and gets a full refund from Airbnb…

10. Guest loses key, denies it—Airbnb does not cover you though they say they do.

11. Guest breaks something and if it’s not fixed, Airbnb makes host pay for new Airbnb for guest.

12. If anything breaks in the condo—it is next to impossible to be paid by Airbnb. They want yout to find three or more companies to go in and give their price… companies charge money to come in… [Airbnb] made it so that it’s never worth it… scam.

13. A guest stayed at our unit for an entire night, then said she didn’t like the smell of the cleaner used on the floor (the morning after). Airbnb canceled the entire reservation—$900 worth, for a week—and gave her that one day free…

Airbnb Host .................................................... Airbnb: A Multibillion Dollar Company

So everybody had a different experience with the scams talked about above. Some people said they got all of their money back from the company, and some none at all.

Airbnb tries hard to show it is responsible for what happens on its platform, with guarantees that if either a host or a guest has a bad experience, they’ll do what they can to make it right. But they’ve also said some room listings have had their share of serious safety issues.

One person from Airbnb said, “We are a platform built on a foundation of trust. We need to continue innovating on trust to make it harder for the bad actors. The trust of our community is our top priority.”

However, for a lot of people, this new verification process is coming too late. For many guests and hosts, the money is gone, the vacation ruined, the apartment destroyed, the low ratings already written.