Airbnb, the vacation rental company based in San Francisco, is in a constant arms race with scammers who want to steal money from you on their platform. Rip offs are especially common in furnished apartment and short term housing transactions because the transactions tend to be large and completed remotely. These tricks can even affect corporate housing and can be especially disruptive for business travelers. Craigslist is famous for being home to many deceptions. If you ever use Craigslist, you can read our guide on avoiding scams on Craigslist. This post will focus on tricks that effect guests and will not focus on fake guest hoaxes.
There are four main types of cons:
- Fake listings: this is most common hustle, where someone puts up a fake profile and listing that looks real, but once you book, the host disappears with your money.
- Fake website: this is a less known version where by various means the conman directs you to a site that looks like Airbnb, but is not Airbnb. When you pay, the hustlers take your credit card information.
- Fake email: this is a less known version where you receive an email that looks like it is from Airbnb asking you for your personal information. When you give your personal information, you give it to the conman.
- Stealing your account: this is a classic scam, where your account is compromised by hackers who use it to steal your information and book accommodation with your identity.
Here is how you should protect yourself from these hoaxes:
Protecting yourself from fake listings
The most important thing is to confirm that the host is a real host. Here are some tips:
- Read their reviews. Listings that have a lot of reviews are more likely to be authentic. There can be fake reviews, but this is less common.
- Reverse Google image search their photos. If the listing is a hustle, you can often find the photos for the listing available online and not associated with that listing (e.g. they are photos from a Zillow home sale or something else).
- Focus your search on “superhost” listings. For a host to become a superhost, they must have very high engagement and reviews on the platform, so superhosts are very unlikely to be false. If you book a listing from a superhost, it is very unlikely to be a hoax.
- Pay attention to how they message you. If they seem sketchy, the probably are sketchy. If they suggest taking the transaction off of the platform, that is a red flag and you should disengage from the conversation.
You can also protect yourself from fake listings by managing how you book the listing:
- Book using a credit card. Credit cards enable you to contest a charge and get your money back. If you book with a debit card and your money is stoken, you may be out of luck.
Protecting yourself from a fake website
This one is pretty simple:
- Think twice when following a link to Airbnb. Conmen have many ways to get you to follow a link. They may have hacked your friend’s email or Facebook account to send you a link. They may have put a link on another website. Most of the time, following a link is legitimate and you will be fine. But by thinking twice, you may be able to realize something that is slightly fishy about the way a link is presented to you.
- Check the URL of any Airbnb website you visit. In one example of a fake website, the URL was www.airbnb.itinerary-booking.com. If you are on the real site, the website URL will always be www.airbnb.com or a country specific variant of that URL.
Protecting yourself from a fake email
Preventing con emails, also called phishing or spear phishing, is pretty similar to the fake website.
- Watch the tone of an email. Fraudulent emails will generally have an urgent and negative tone, such as “Act quickly or your account will be suspended.” It’s human nature to just act when you see an email like this, but make sure to think twice if urgent action is demanded.
- An email should never ask for your personal information. If an email asks for your personal information (e.g. credit card information, social security number, etc.) that is a red flag.
- Check for spelling mistakes. Spelling mistakes are a classic red flag in email fraud.
- Don’t trust the display name. The display name (i.e. the person’s actual name that appears on an email message) is easily changed. The display name may say “Trust and Safety”, but it may not be from Trust and Safety.
- Check the domain of the email address. According to Airbnb, authentic Airbnb emails will always come from one of the following email addresses:
Protecting yourself from having your account stolen
The best way to protect yourself from having your account stolen is to:
- Create a strong password. Creating passwords that are common or easily guessed (e.g. your birthday, etc.) is risky.
- Create a unique password. Using the same password across many services increases your risk of being victim to account stealing.
- Use multi-factor authentication. Airbnb has recently ramped up their use of multi-factor authentication, which makes it much more difficult for your account to be taken over. If you haven't already, you should opt into multi-factor authentication.
I hope this helps you avoid scams on Airbnb. Best of luck!
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Homesuite is the leading provider of monthly furnished rentals for business travel. We are differentiated by combining the comfort of home with the professionality of a hotel. Our customers include Google, Facebook, Microsoft and thousands of smaller businesses. In addition to our business offering, we also serve individuals traveling for work and personal reasons. Founded in 2014, we operate across the United States with specific focus in large urban markets.