We have recently been the victim of a scam on Airbnb that cost us nearly £4,000. My partner, my two children (5 and 1), and I wanted a last minute getaway due to a stressful few months, so we booked cheap Ryanair flights to Ibiza with the hope of finding somewhere to stay last minute and managed to stumble upon the Airbnb website through Google. Before this point, I’d never heard of Airbnb. I registered with the site and contacted a couple of hosts regarding availability but had no luck in finding anything as the places we could afford were fully booked. We had almost given up and nearly cancelled our flights as we couldn’t find anywhere to stay but at the bottom of the list of properties I saw some villas that said ‘others you may be interested in.’ I clicked on an amazing looking villa that showed our dates were still available. It was still out of our price range but as we were due to fly in less than two weeks we contacted them to see if they could offer us a late deal.
We didn’t hear anything for a few days and then I had an email through Airbnb from the host, saying her messages had not been getting through to her and she had been told by Airbnb to put her private email address on one of the pictures so she could receive the messages that way. We asked about the dates available via her email address to be told they were available and we managed to get the price down to £3,000 for the nine nights plus a £600 deposit which was still very much over our budget. However, we were thrilled about this as the villa had five bedrooms so we thought we could invite some friends over with their kids and make it a holiday of a lifetime, splitting the cost of the villa. We invited two couples along with their four children, who also booked flights to Ibiza and were going to stay for a few days each. As we had never used this website before we weren’t aware of the payment system or the way the website worked in general but we asked a few people about booking on Airbnb as we were a bit wary; the people we spoke to said it was a legitimate company and it would be fine.
We were emailing our host back and forth and asked how we should pay and she said she could not take the payment directly and that it would have to go through Airbnb. Rather, she would send them the details there and then and we would get an email confirming the reservation and details on how to pay. We received a very official looking Airbnb email, from an Airbnb email address with a confirmation booking number and details of payment by bank transfer to an Airbnb host. Like I said, we had never used the site before and the email appeared to come from Airbnb so we assumed this was the system of payment, as when I set up my profile on Airbnb I received no warning about how to pay other hosts correctly. Instead, there are various references of ways to pay littered across the site, including “instant book”, “contact host” and “expedite credit card payment”. These create enough confusion so that when an email is received from someone listed as a verified user you do not doubt it.
We paid the £3,600 by bank transfer on 01/08/16 and were still in contact with the host as we had various questions, e.g. did they have a travel cot, how far was it from the airport, etc. We were in contact with them up until the night before we were due to fly to Ibiza and the host even offered to pick us up from the airport but we said we had hired a car and we just needed the address. The host didn’t reply that night with the address and the following morning we rang her mobile number various times, contacted her by Whatsapp, and emailed her. By this point we were getting very worried as we were due to leave for the airport that afternoon. I contacted the Airbnb helpline and spoke to a lady to whom I gave the confirmation number, but she could not find my booking and suggested I contact customer services who would look into the matter for me. They did not have phones and I could only contact them by email.
I was furious by this point as I could not believe that if you have a problem or issue with a booking that you cannot talk to a human being in person and could only by email, hoping that you are able to get a response before you travel. I did get a response quite quickly luckily enough but it appeared to be a standard automated email that was not personal or did not sympathise with my situation at all. I gave the representative all the details that I had of the contact I’d been dealing with and I received a further blunt automated response back to say there was no booking and nothing Airbnb could do to sort out the situation or offer a refund as we paid outside of their system (which we didn’t realise we were doing). That would be the final email we would receive.
I’ve since had another email through Airbnb from another ‘lady’ asking me to provide further details of myself through her personal email address in order for her to accept a booking request, which I assume is another fraudster trying to take advantage. So it seems to still be happening on a regular occurrence. To summarise, we lost £3,600 for a villa advertised on the Airbnb website that I assume did not even exist! I had to tell my excited five-year old who had his case packed all ready to go that we were no longer going on holiday. We had to cancel our flights (another £356 lost) as we could not afford to stay anywhere else at such short notice. Our friends also had to cancel their flights and tell their children there was no holiday. We are still paying off a holiday we did not go on and will do for some time. Overall our loss was nearly £4,000! I am flabbergasted that the customer service for such a large company like Airbnb is so poor and they could not even apologise or compensate my family for the money we have lost. Since we were victims of this scam I have Googled Airbnb scams and found that this is not an isolated incident as articles have been written in the Guardian (04/06/16), The Huffington Post (27/01/16), and The Telegraph (20/03/15), just to name a few.
Regarding victims that have fallen prey to fraudsters on the site. It was suggested in one of the 2014 articles that a warning be issued to new subscribers warning them of the danger of fraudsters on the site and a guide be given on the correct payment process. It seems this was not looked into or carried out as had it been, then I would not have been a victim of fraud and lost £3,600. How are they allowing people to advertise villas and apartments on the site that do not exist? Are they checked out and verified before they advertise or can anyone post a rental on the site? I just don’t understand how this is happening! I wanted to write this story as a warning to others so the fraudsters cannot do this to anyone else.