How Does Airbnb Use Your Information? Risk of Identity Theft?

Booking two nights away in Melbourne I searched through the listings and found what looked like a reputable host operating in a reputable building in a reputable part of Melbourne. I corresponded with the host and asked about the check-in procedures as I would be arriving after normal hours. They assured me it was very easy: all I had to do was book and pay and I’d be given access to an after-hours key box where I could collect the key. Sounds reasonable, right? I did what a reasonable person would do: booked and paid. Then nothing happened. When I followed up the host just a couple of days before we were due to travel I received an email from some nameless management company in Melbourne, “Apartments Melbourne Domain” requesting me to send a copy of my driver’s license as well as my credit card details, i.e. number, expiration date, and CCV number by email.

The host has subsequently ceased corresponding due to my requests for a refund as I refused to send this information via email and it’s in dispute with PayPal. Neither the host nor Airbnb UK (to whom the money goes) have responded to date, currently 48 hours since I disputed the payment. Hopefully I will get my money back. I’ve since booked with a reputable hotel that doesn’t require this sort of rubbish. If you comply with this kind of demand they would have your name, address, email address, driver’s license number, date of birth, your bank information, and your credit card number including the expiration date and CCV number. Identity fraud by these people is a very real possibility.

In this day and age, it’s not hard to set up a secure online portal for these things. The fact that they haven’t if they require this information to check in makes me wonder why they didn’t. Either they’re lazy and don’t care or it was malicious oversight on their part because it’s quite possible to actually set up a much better system. I’m sure my post will be bombarded by those of you have had great experiences, but think about how much you really know about the hosts to whom you are handing this information. If just one of them does the wrong thing once, what might that cost you? Please share, as I just finished reading a story on Huffington Post about one of their journalists being scammed out of thousands of dollars by a fake Airbnb user, so it happens. This platform needs to mature a lot before it’s user friendly and safe.

Scammers Keep Adapting: Long-Term Apartment in Vienna

I was planning to find an apartment to rent in Vienna long term and used the website jobwohnen.at to look for a place. There I found a really good offer of a very nice apartment, with a really good price and an incredible location. I thought it was perfect and decided to write the person renting the apartment, Matilda Veracruz Barrera. The listing was in German and it seemed really nice. Since I speak Spanish and the name of the contact was clearly from a Spanish-speaking country, I suggested that we could communicate in Spanish. After a short time, I received this message:

“Hello, I just read your email regarding my apartment for rent located in Vienna, Austria. It has two rooms: one bedroom, one living room (51 square meters). I bought this apartment for my daughter during her studies in Austria, but now she’s back home permanently. I’m renting the place for an unlimited time. Before we go any further I would like to know a little something about you, like how many people you intend to live in the apartment, and for how long. The flat is exactly like in the pictures, furnished and renovated. The utilities (cold/hot water, electricity, wireless broadband Internet, digital TV , dishwasher, microwave, refrigerator, washing machine, etc.) are included in the price of the rent. You will have one parking spot, whose rent is 470 EUR month. The guarantee deposit is  1250 EUR, and you get it back when you decide to leave the apartment (you will have to give me at least 30 days’ notice). As for me, you can rest assured that I will never ask you to leave the apartment. My daughter is building her life here. I am too old to move to Austria, so we won’t disturb you. You can use my furniture, or you can also use your own if you prefer. If you decide to use yours, you will have access to a very large and well ventilated cellar, where you can store my furniture. Now, a little bit about myself so we can get to know each other better. My name is Matilda Veracruz Barrera and I’m 56 years old, Deputy Director of the chamber of commerce from Barcelona/Spain, planning to retire in the next two years. I have a lovely husband, Luis Veracruz Barrera, and a 25-year-old daughter, Luisa. I am very proud to say that soon I’m going to be a grandmother. Another member of our family is an 8-year-old Labrador which we all love, so I have no problem if you keep pets. The only inconvenience is that my job doesn’t allow me to leave Barcelona even for one single day. We just hired some new staff and I’m in charge of their training. This won’t affect you at all. I can make arrangements to rent the apartment from Barcelona (on my expense of course). Looking forward to hearing from you soon. All the best from Spain!”

This message to me seemed perfect but also strange, since I suggested that we could speak in Spanish but she responded in English. I thought that maybe this person had this already written in English and was just copying and pasting to anybody contacting her. Now I realize that the listing was in German and the sudden switch to English was weird as well, since I wrote her in German in the first place and just suggested Spanish as an option. I was very naïve and decided to write her back. I was super nice and super detailed with my moving date, and my purpose in Vienna, so that the person would trust me. After that message I received this:

“Gracias por su respuesta, Como te he informado antes, el precio de 1 mes de alquiler será de 470 euros con todas las facturas incluidas en él, y quiero también un depósito de garantía de 1250 euros (el depósito de garantía de € 1250 que recibirá de vuelta al final de la Contrato), sin impuestos adicionales a pagar. Quiero recibir el dinero mensualmente en mi cuenta bancaria, por lo que espero que no será ningún problema para que el cable del dinero. Estoy dispuesto a enviarle las llaves para que pueda visitarlo y ver que se adapte a sus necesidades. La entrega de las llaves y permiso de visualización (firmado por mí), se hará con Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) para asegurarse de que podamos confiar en el otro. Si estás interesado te puedo explicar el procedimiento, así que espero noticias de tu lado porque realmente necesito ocuparme de este asunto. ¡Gracias!”

This message seemed ok. I thought that it was the real deal since it was written in Spanish. The thing is that I gave so many details and this seemed to be a very cold message. Also the Spanish wording is a little bit weird and with some clear mistakes. I thought: mistakes from a Deputy Director of the chamber of commerce? If you put that message into Google Translate you get this:

“Thanks for your reply. As I have informed you, the price of one month’s rent will be 470 euros with all bills included, and I also want a security deposit of 1250 euros (you will receive the security deposit of €1250 back at the end of the contract), without additional taxes to be paid. I want to receive the money monthly into my bank account, so I hope it will not be any problem for you to do a wire transfer. I am willing to send you the keys so that you can visit and see that it suits your needs. The delivery of the keys and permission of visualization (signed by me), will be done with Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) to make sure we can trust each other. If you are interested I can explain the procedure, so I expect news from your side because I really need to deal with this. Thank you!”

Of course they used Google Translate. The whole situation still seemed so fishy but I decided to continue to read her responses. I wrote her a short message saying that I was interested and that I would like to know how the process with Airbnb works. I also told her that I needed the apartment for July and not immediately. I received then this back:

“Hello, the contract is made in your name, and yes, everything is included. First of all, I want to tell you that if you are ready to proceed with this transaction I will need to inform you the steps about how this service works. You will have two days to inspect the apartment before your final decision to rent. I will pay the shipping costs. This is how it works:

  1. I will deliver the papers to Airbnb.
  2. After I deliver the papers they will require your payment confirmation of the first month and the guarantee deposit (€470.00 + €1250.00=€1720) to the company. Airbnb will send you a delivery notification to let you know they have the keys and the papers in their custody. Also Airbnb will give you further instructions about the deposit.
  3. After the payment is confirmed the delivery process will start and when you receive the keys, you will have two days to inspect the property before your final decision to rent.
  4. If all is in order, you will instruct Airbnb to give me the money. Future rent will be sent directly to my bank account.
  5. If you refuse to rent the apartment, Airbnb will give you a full refund (€1720.00) and you will give them back the keys and the contract. If you are interested in renting the apartment please send me your information, so I can make the deal: name, address, city, postal code, country, phone number, a copy of your ID, passport or driving license by email (scan or photo) and a picture of you. Thanks!”

Again the conversation was switched back to English with no feedback on my elaborated details. It seemed so fishy at this point that I decided to Google this woman at the chamber of commerce of Barcelona, and I couldn’t find anything. Then I decided to look for Airbnb scams and found a very similar story posted on Airbnb Hell some days ago with a long-term apartment in Iceland. That’s why I’m sharing my story, because it is clearly a scam. I am not angry with Airbnb; they haven’t done anything to me. I cannot say that Airbnb is a good or a bad platform, since I’ve never used it before, but there’s definitely a bunch of idiots outside of Airbnb trying to use it to scam people. This post is just to show people out there to be careful with these kind of offers. Don’t fall into this trap. Fortunately I was careful enough in the end, but some people might fall for this and the amount of money they are asking for is quite a lot. I hope this helps others in similar situations and they will report it here or somewhere else. Please let me know where else can I share my story so people won’t be fooled in the future.

Washington DC Guest Steals Electronics… and more

For my first experience hosting with Airbnb, I hosted a gentleman from the UK for the inauguration weekend and Women’s March in Washington DC. When I arrived home, I discovered he had taken every item that may have been indicative of someone other than him living there (photos, art, my guitar) and stuffed them into our closets – thus, damaging the items – that my roommate and I explicitly stated in our rules not to go into. He also stole both of my Amazon fire sticks from the TVs. The next morning, I also discovered he had stolen all of my underwear. It’s been two weeks and even though I immediately provided photos and receipts to Airbnb, not only are they completely unresponsive but they withheld his payment of $800 to me until I held their feet to the fire. At that point they explained they were holding the funds because of an “issue with the user account.” When I asked if he complained, they stated that it was “more than that,” whatever that means. I have called and emailed multiple times and not only has nobody been in touch with us, but they haven’t refunded what I’ve had to spend to replace the items. They keep telling me they hope this doesn’t discourage us from hosting in the future. Thanks, but after I get my place swept for bugs, I’ll absolutely never be using Airbnb’s horrible hosting service again.

Scam on Airbnb: Austrian Holiday Falls Through

We were looking for accommodation in Austria near Kitzbuhel for February 16-19th this year. After looking for a bit we found a very nice chalet with amazing views hosted by Mark on Airbnb. I checked his profile: it was verified by Airbnb, with 39 reviews. On Monday, January 30th I contacted him via Airbnb, and he responded saying I should contact his wife via email to confirm the dates. Then I wrote to his wife, to confirm the dates and the availability. We exchanged some emails, and they told me more about the property and rules. After agreeing on the dates and all the details, on January 31st they send me a link, which linked back to Airbnb. When I clicked on it, I was directed back to my Airbnb reservation. I selected my desired dates and it let me enter all my credit card details. I put everything in and submitted it. At that moment, it said that the payment couldn’t go through, so I ha to use a wire transfer. All the details to make the payment were included, so I continued as advised.

Meanwhile, I received an email confirmation from Airbnb for the accommodation, including an invoice and itinerary, all looking totally normal and original. I contacted the host and wrote that I made the payment and informed him of my arrival. He answered that everything was fine and we would stay in touch. The next morning I received an email alert from Airbnb stating that I was probably contacted by someone using a fake profile. I wanted to check this host’s profile but it wasn’t available anymore. I contacted Airbnb, telling them I already made a payment. The host was still communicating with me but his phone number which was listed in his email only rang; no one ever answered.

This morning I received a text from my bank, with the verification code for some payment by my credit card (the same which I used for paying for accommodation on Airbnb) for 53.84 USD. I was just in my car driving and my card was in my wallet. So was obvious that someone stole my card details when I made a payment on Airbnb. I had to cancel my card at the bank, and asked my bank if they could request a refund from the receiving bank. I’m not really sure that they will ever send my money back. I went to the police to report this whole situation, because I was a victim of a scam on Airbnb, having paid 1363 euro for this accommodation. I was using their application from time to time, and many of my friends thought it was trustworthy and safe. I will never book on Airbnb again, because I don’t want to lose more money. Unfortunately this was my experience, which was difficult to recognize, as I was trusting Airbnb. Their attitude is just ridiculous; they take no responsibility for anything. It looks like Airbnb has a dark side. Maybe all these scams are the way they make lots of money.

Airbnb is a Free Breeding Ground for Scammers

I signed up for Airbnb a week ago looking for an apartment in Copenhagen for me and my family to stay during a business trip. I thought that renting an apartment would be more comfortable for my two children. I filtered through many apartments. I requested a few and was denied by the hosts, saying that the apartments were not available the days selected. So after a few automated rejections I decided to send messages directly to the hosts asking if the apartments were available the days I needed. I found one conveniently next to the convention center in Copenhagen that was available. The description had a name and picture of the host and said “verified”. I now know verified means something entirely different to Airbnb. The host sent me a message asking for my email so he can send me a rental agreement. I received the agreement, signed the paperwork, and sent it back.

I then received an email from Airbnb requesting to pay for the apartment. The email name plainly said “Airbnb”. The email was identical to the ones I had received from Airbnb in the format and design, from the apartment listing to my photo and the host’s photo. I mean exactly the same. I clicked the link and it directed me to a website that was exactly the same as Airbnb. I was logged in and as I clicked links it clicked in and out of my account. It had my PayPal info. I went to pay with PayPal and it showed an error message that said only wire transfer were allowed. It provided details for the wire transfer and said to please upload the confirmation to Airbnb afterwards, all through this phony Airbnb website completely identical to the real one. This wasn’t some small scam; I could upload data, and log in and out.

I received confirmation emails identical to Airbnb’s emails. The night I was traveling with my family I received a message from the host saying the apartment had flooded and I should find other accommodations. It was midnight; I was furious. I got on a plane with two little kids and nowhere to stay. The host emailed me through Airbnb again saying I would receive a refund shortly. I called Airbnb and found out this whole thing was a scam. They would do nothing as they had no information about the host. Nothing.

What if this person was a murderer, rapist, or junkie? My family could have been in real harm. I can’t believe they have no information about this person except an email. They accept no responsibility and still have his listing on their site. I will provide a link. I searched around the internet and now understand this has been a scam that has gone on for a while now on Airbnb. Their safety precautions now are to tell guests to simply beware through their terms and conditions, not to really verify their hosts by asking for identification, bank accounts, or credit cards. I just can’t understand how they can openly offer a service that allows scammers. They have done nothing to protect their users after scams have been uncovered and will do nothing. Something terrible will happen if they don’t really take some action. I have notified the FBI about this fraud so if enough people do they will examine their business practices. It’s called an IC3: Internet complaint center. I would stay clear from booking anything through Airbnb. If it’s my first time and this happened there has to be a lot more going on. I provided pictures of the listing that is currently still up after I provided Airbnb with the details. I also submitted a complaint with the BBB.

Hell in Apollo Bay: Australian Airbnb Fraud

I purchased accommodation through this host for a property called Diandera Dirrah a in Apollo Bay, Australia from the December 27th to January 2nd. I have confirmation emails from Airbnb confirming these dates. I paid $2617 for six nights’ accommodation and on the second morning the host arrived at the property and told us to “get out or she would call the police” as she had “spies in the neighbourhood who told her we had a party.”

We did no such thing. She was yelling, laughing hysterically and threatening us. I had no leg to stand on and we left. We had to camp at a local football oval and buy tents and yoga mats to sleep on as we were five hours from home; it was horrible. We drove past the property and saw she already had new occupants staying there. This is a scam. She took $2617 from hard working, responsible individuals and threatened us. We should have received a refund but Airbnb did nothing to help. She then illegally altered the receipt to say that we only stayed one night for $2617 which is an absolute joke. Please see the attached documents that prove we were confirmed for six nights and then the altered receipt. Do not stay here; they will steal your money.

Illegal Scams and Fraud Run by Airbnb Hosts

I am new to Airbnb but my college kid and her friends use it when they travel. I thought I’d give it a try. What I have learned is that as a guest there seems to be a lot of identity validation requested and they ask for a lot of information. At first I took some comfort in this. Then I tried to reserve my first property. The host claimed on the listing that they have trouble updating their calendar so to email them to confirm availability. Not thinking too much of it, I did that and they responded promptly. They then said to get started they would need my name, address, and government-issued ID. I wasn’t sure if they meant put it into the platform or send it directly (which I would never do). Anyway I used the platform to request the reservation and woke up to an automated email from the Airbnb Trust & Safety team saying I should never contact hosts directly off the platform; the host is now being put through a verification process. They said they were suspending the host’s account.

So it doesn’t appear that there is much of a host verification process at all. In fact, this looks like an identity theft scam. I wanted to point out this detail to Airbnb but their automated alerts do not mention any way to discuss this with them. From what I can tell, there is absolutely no way to communicate with the operators of the platform. The way they treat someone using their platform for identity theft, a very serious crime, is to simply remove their account. I’m sure that will really scare them off. Assuming they actually know the identity of these hosts and I could correspond with someone on the platform about this fraud, I would expect them to alert the relevant authorities. Their behavior is both irresponsible and negligent.

I found Airbnb Hell searching for any way to contact Airbnb and I am concluding that it simply does not exist. Not wanting to give up on one bad first impression I went to book a second property. The 24-hour mark has almost passed and I haven’t heard anything from this host either. I guess I’ll take a third swing but then it’s three strikes and I’m off the platform. I know there are many wonderful and responsible hosts on the platform but Airbnb appears to be doing next to nothing to filter the bad and fraudulent ones. It seems you can post listings that you have no legal right to rent out; how can that be their practice? What I have learned is you have to do your own vetting of the host and be very careful. They could be frauds and criminals, and Airbnb does little to prevent them from using the platform. If anything goes wrong you are on your own.

Scammed Because Airbnb Really Doesn’t Care

I admit there are numerous statements across the Airbnb website stating do not book outside the site. Being a new user, when faced with a message on a listing to contact the host directly, I did. In all innocence, I actually thought that the listing had been validated by Airbnb prior to uploading and that no changes could be made once live. Therefore if the listing had a request to contact them directly I would assume that Airbnb had approved it. Logical, not stupid. However, we all know that’s not true. Airbnb has no security measures, procedures, responsibility or morals. Apparently you can easily create a bogus host, draft up something pretty, wait for it to go live, and falsify it as much as you like, including adding and amending details. Then if they are unfortunate to be flagged or worse still, have been successful in their scam (as in my case) they take the listing down and Airbnb has no way of tracking them. It’s an absolute playground for scammers.

So how does Airbnb deal with this? Do they install preventative measures to stop this happening? Scrutinize and have more background checks on hosts before uploading? Do they ensure no changes can be made once the listing is live or they are only managed through administrators at Airbnb?

Don’t be silly. That would be taking responsibility and accepting that when you start a business providing a service you do so accepting an obligation to ensure the security and safety of every single user. But wait: I hear you say they have disclaimers, so this excuses them for not taking responsibility for investing in the site. They can continue to scrape as much profit as possible while hiding behind these warnings. Basically Airbnb are giving scammers carte blanche to take advantage of the site, targeting the vulnerable and naïve.

Can you talk to anyone about this? Absolutely not. I did manage to get a lovely superhost representing Airbnb who was understanding, but in his words:

“I do understand that this does happen often and we do have security measures. For these scam listings, they are fine when they set up their listing but then they change the information or add a picture with a number and then remove it quickly or remove the listing before we can get the ID. I can assure you than once we find these listings; we do notify our Trust and Safety Team to remove the listing and the host.”

I am sure that more can be done as well. So come on, Brian Chesky, be a man and face up to your responsibilities; stop hiding behind disclaimers or warnings. Create a site where every user feels safe and secure using it. Limit the possibility of scamming and fraud. Have some human contact – a customer phone line so if there are any issues they can be resolved quickly, professionally, and without the need to find these websites.

Tenants Rented out Home for Super Bowl

I am a realtor and was selling a home for a client. Since the home was vacant, the seller elected to have a home tending service put tenants in the home (it helps owners with utility expenses and whatnot in exchange for a tenant staying for reduced rent paid to the home tending company). We found a buyer and are under contract, and gave the home tenders their 30 days’ notice to vacate. The buyer’s agent emailed me to say the buyer saw the home listed in Houston for the Super Bowl at $2000/night (which occurs before their 30 days is up). The home tender obviously did this (the owner didn’t). I called Airbnb to report this. They refused to even tell me whether the home was rented (we can’t find the listing now because it was likely rented out). They just would not help me, with the representative telling me they didn’t know who I was. I asked if they would like the owner of the home to call them, and they said they wouldn’t help there, either. They are just allowing fraud. The representative was insanely rude and told me to call the police. With what proof since the listing is gone? I honestly can’t believe they do business this way. I used to use them myself. Never again.