Airbnb have been criticized over a spate of vacation rentals scams involving properties listed on their site. The UK’s respected BBCtv consumer program, Watchdog found that not only were victims losing money to the scammers but that it was relatively easy to post bogus information on their site.
The program uncovered a top-end, luxury property in Utah advertised on Airbnb at £1719 a night and listed with Airbnb. Elsewhere on their site, the same image was advertised as a London apartment at just £200 a night.
According to the Watchdog program (aired 22 October), Airbnb were not aware of this duplication nor of the potential for this scam on their website.
Guests duped of substantial sums
Watchdog also highlighted cases where guests had been duped out of substantial amounts of money by vacation rentals scams using the site. Most notable was that of a young woman who rented a luxury villa in Cannes to surprise her mum. The villa and its details were listed on Airbnb. The young woman spoke to the owner via Airbnb who suggested she contact him via a personal email address.
The fake owner persuaded her to pay the £3,000 ($4,500) bill using bank transfer. When she heard nothing more, she became worried and contacted Airbnb. They had no record of the booking or payment. Later, it emerged that the property shown was not in Cannes but somewhere in South America and the ‘owner’ was bogus.
So far, Airbnb have offered only sympathy to the scam victim.
Actual owners were unaware of fake listings
Watchdog claims that scammers have listed property details on Airbnb, without the agreement or knowledge of the actual owners. Passing themselves off as the owners, they request payment direct, usually by bank transfer. Normally, payment would be via Airbnb’s site.
Chantelle Brown, another guest who used Airbnb, was also duped and lost £700. She booked a property in Amsterdam on Airbnb but did not know it was a false listing by vacation rental scammers. The deception came to light when she arrived in Amsterdam and found herself with nowhere to stay.
Airbnb have not offered any compensation to the victims located by Watchdog.
To check on Airbnb’s vigilance, Watchdog decided to list a fake property on the site. This was easily managed, apparently, with no ID or home address necessary. In fact, it was so easy they were able to put up 10 Downing Street, London SW1, for rental. This will be of particular interest to British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who lives there!
Airbnb told the BBC that it was doing what it could. Considering the details of these audacious vacation rental scams carried out using Airbnb’s website, it is not clear what that amounts to.
Can we prevent vacation rentals scams?
Scams are nothing new in the vacation rental industry. But what can independent vacation rental owners do to help prevent these fake vacation rentals scams?
The first essential is not to rely on listing sites for your web presence. Get your own website. At Homes and Rooms, we think this is so important that we provide all our subscribers with their own professional website from the day they sign up. Guests who are unsure of a listing site entry (whether it’s on Airbnb or any other listing site) can visit your website for extra verification.
Homes and Rooms founder Barry Sacks and Operations Manager Albert Owen emphasised the importance of your own website in a recent webinar entitled ‘The top 10 tips every independent owner needs to know to increase revenue’. In fact, it was the number one top tip!
Check for yourself
If you’re now wondering whether your images or details may have been hijacked by the scammers, here’s how to check. Open your website and right click with your mouse on an image of your property. Copy the URL that appears and paste it into a search engine such as Google. Now search ‘by image’ to reveal whether it is being used elsewhere.
Fortunately, these kind of scams are not common. Though it is wise for everyone, owners and guests, to be on their guard. If you or your property have ever been scammed, why not let us know. Then we can share your experience and perhaps help others in the independent vacation rental owner community to overcome this menace?