For a long time, Airbnb hosts who wanted to cheat guests were able to use several easily exploitable Airbnb loopholes to scam guests out of money. After substantial negative press in the past couple of years about scams, Airbnb promised to verify all 7 million of its listings and revamp its host registration process. They now offer a guest refund policy to rebook unsatisfied customers at an equal or better property or refund them 100% if the listing is inaccurate.
Unfortunately, there are still many ways that hosts can cheat you out of money or just greatly inconvenience you and leave you stranded in a foreign country. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of a scam is to educate yourself. Here are 16 of the most devious scams.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice. You should obtain professional advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. Deskless Nomad makes no representations, warranties, or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete, or up to date. Please see the full Deskless Nomad Disclaimer.
1. The Non-Existent Property
Hosts post fake photos and describe a property that doesn’t actually exist. The guest arrives and finds that the property is non-existent or greatly deviates from the listing. There is no one there to meet them or address the discrepancy. This may now be more common in countries where rentals are difficult for Airbnb to vet. It is difficult to know how often this is happening since guests can’t leave reviews if their stay was canceled. This includes if the booking was canceled because they arrived and found the property was non-existent.
2. The Bait and Switch
Similar to the non-existent property, this scam involves the host listing a rental with photos they find online of another property. The guest shows up and the host tells them the property they thought they rented is undergoing repairs from a party that trashed the house or a plumbing fiasco. In the bait and switch, the host moves the guest to a lower-quality property that isn’t worth anything close to what was paid for the booking. Unfortunately, Airbnb doesn’t penalize hosts for cancellations or changes related to property damage, maintenance, or amenity issues. To avoid a similar fate, never agree to a property swap until you have seen the new place.
3. The Too Good to Be True Property
This one also involves using inaccurate photos or descriptions but in this case, the host exaggerates the property’s promising qualities (like views or a nice neighborhood) or amenities (like gym access) that aren’t accurate.
4. The Double Booking
While this scam is not always intentionally fraudulent it can still be a major inconvenience. Many hosts post their properties on multiple vacation rental sites but fail to keep track of their bookings. Multiple guests then show up at the same time.
Sometimes the host double-books in the hope that they will get a higher rate on another site. The guest thinks their travel plans are set and then the host cancels at the last minute. Or even more frustrating, the guest arrives and finds the property is occupied and the guest is left to arrange for alternate accommodations at the last minute.
5. Multiple Hosts Listing Same Property
Similar to double booking, in this scenario, a first and second host both list the same property at very different prices on the same site and then cancel the lower-priced booking if the property is also booked at the higher price.
6. Bogus Damage Charges
This one can really make your blood boil. According to Airbnb terms, guests are potentially liable for any damage caused to the property. Hosts may charge for items that were clearly broken or missing prior to arrival. They can charge for carpet cleaning when stains were already present. They can charge exorbitant fees to rekey a door, claiming that the key was lost even if the guest tells the host exactly where they left the key.
Dealing with the Airbnb resolution center for this type of scam is incredibly frustrating because it is your word against the host. On top of the extra charges, a host may lie in their review of guests in order to support their case.
The best way to avoid headaches is to do a walk-through when you arrive, take photos, and write down notes just as you would for a property management company when renting a property long term. This is especially important if you are bringing your dog or other pet to an Airbnb. Always message the host through the Airbnb app with anything you find to create a record for Airbnb.
7. Requesting Payment Outside of Airbnb
Never pay outside of the Airbnb app. When someone books a rental on Airbnb, Airbnb holds the money and only releases it to the host 24 hours after the guest arrives in order to help protect guests from cancellations or other issues. If you pay outside of the app and find out the property was fraudulent, you will have no recourse to recoup your money.
In this scenario, hosts may send an invoice and request that money is sent by bank transfer, Venmo, PayPal, bitcoin, or check rather than through Airbnb. The guest arrives and finds that the property belongs to someone else or doesn’t even exist.
In another variation, after the guest arrives the host may ask for the security deposit or other amenity fees that weren’t mentioned in the listing. They ask for these to be paid outside of the app. After the stay, the security deposit is never refunded or is withheld for bogus “damages.” Unfortunately, if you try to complain to Airbnb, there is no record of your payment.
Alternatively, a guest asks to extend their stay and the host asks for cash payment in order to avoid giving Airbnb a portion in fees. While this may seem harmless, if anything goes wrong during the extended stay, Airbnb won’t assist since the original booking has technically ended. When you pay with cash you also lose out on any refund protection your credit card company might have given you.
The Airbnb website has more information on what to do if you are asked to pay outside of the website.
8. Charging for Extras
In this case, a property is listed as having a kitchen but the guest arrives to find there is no tableware or cookware. The host then requests an additional fee for use of these items. Another “extra” charge that is common is when a host decides to charge per roll of toilet paper. While these are minor, they should still be reported to Airbnb. If a property is listed as having a kitchen, a guest should get what they pay for and not be expected to bring cookware or pay more to use kitchen items.
9. A Part of the Property Rather than the Whole
In this scam, the property is described as an entire residence but the guest arrives to find there are people living in a part of the residence who may or may not be the host. They may also find there are other guests staying in another part of the house.
10. The Email Phishing Scam
The next scam involves nefarious emails. An email may look like it comes from Airbnb and offers an attractive deal on a rental. A link then takes the guest to a website that looks like Airbnb where they are asked to enter personal details and their identity is then stolen. The email itself may contain malware or the thieves may steal your personal identity from the information you enter on the website. Airbnb has a short tutorial on how to determine if an email is actually from Airbnb.
In a more sophisticated twist, the property is listed on the real Airbnb site, the guest contacts the host to express interest, then the criminal sends a link to a fake site for booking. The guest arrives and finds the property doesn’t exist but when they turn to the real Airbnb for assistance, there is no evidence of booking.
Although this is a very rare type of scam, it underscores the importance of always starting at the Airbnb home page, confirming website addresses, and using a VPN to make bookings while you are on the road.
11. Email Phishing with Third Party Booking
An email is sent to a potential guest with an offer to reserve and pay for an Airbnb property through a third-party service with a fake “coupon” or “discount.” After payment is taken, the guest finds there is no property, no booking, and they have lost their payment.
12. Secret Spy Cameras
One of the most invasive scams is where hosts hide secret cameras in the house that transmit video or images to the internet for host or public consumption. Hosts may call these security cameras, but when they are inside the property it is clearly an invasion of privacy. The Airbnb website details what you should do if you feel unsafe at one of their properties.
13. Delayed Deposit Refunds to Avoid Bad Review
The final four scams have to do with hosts manipulating circumstances for better reviews. In the first, the host simply delays returning refunds or portions of deposits for two weeks. The timing is important because two weeks after a guest has checked out, they can no longer leave reviews, allowing the host to avoid receiving a bad review for bad behavior.
14. Review Extortion
In order to attain “super host status” which can significantly affect how many bookings a host gets, they must maintain a 4.8 overall review rating. In this scam, hosts ask up-front for a 5-star review no matter what the stay is like, sometimes making guests feel guilty and other times even threatening guests. They may ask guests to withhold reviews and handle disputes privately rather than through the Airbnb communication portal.
Hosts may also screen a guest’s other reviews to see if they tend to leave negative reviews and refuse to rent to them unless they agree to not leave a review for the property.
15. The Fake Review Scam
A host may have a friend or relative book their property through Airbnb and leave fake glowing reviews for a property that doesn’t live up to the review. Make sure to read a number of reviews and try to stick with properties that have multiple authentic-sounding reviews so you get a better idea of the truth.
16. Removing Negative Reviews
Hosts have the ability to remove negative reviews on Airbnb, even though Airbnb technically has the final say. There are reported cases where hosts have tried to game the system and fabricate text messages from guests to show Airbnb that a guest has displayed abusive or inappropriate behavior and their negative review should be removed. Or guests may receive abusive or threatening text messages from the host demanding that they remove a bad review.
Others have alleged that Airbnb itself has tampered with reviews since the business model is only as good as its reviews and bad reviews hurt business.
Final Words of Advice
If you encounter any of these scams, make sure to notify Airbnb within 24 hours of check-in. After the negative press of the past couple of years, Airbnb is now promising to assist with rebooking and/or refunds if guests find themselves in any one of these situations. Beware that if you report problems after 24 hours of check-in, it is at Airbnb’s discretion if they will reimburse you or help you find alternate accommodation.
Make sure you have documentation through the app of all communications with the host to help your case. As much as possible, keep all communication with the host inside the Airbnb system and do not pay anything outside of the system. Using your credit card will also give some back-end refund protection.
Airbnb is a great way to have the comforts of home while traveling but it is important to learn to protect yourself from scams to avoid headaches and inconvenience, loss of money and time, and loss of privacy.