Is Everything About Airbnb Fake? Scammed in Philly

Is Airbnb just a fake company? Based on my experience, it clearly seems to be the case. I live in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I had plans to be in Philadelphia for a week to celebrate my ten-year MBA reunion, and had booked my Airbnb more than two months in advance. So, I flew nine hours from Sao Paulo to JFK, rented a car and then arrived in Philly after traveling for more than 15 hours. Once I arrived at the address of the Airbnb, I realized that I could locate the two adjacent properties but not the address on the reservation. So, I called the host and found out that the number had been disconnected. That’s when I realized that I had been pranked, except that there was nothing funny about it.

I immediately contacted Airbnb, and they tried to contact the host, as if that would help. After an hour or so, they said that I was right and asked me to check other locations on Airbnb. This was a fun exercise, given that I had just been through a long, international trip with plenty of luggage to lug around. Finally, I decided enough was enough and downloaded and got a hotel through the app HotelTonight (secretly, I am sure HotelTonight must be delighted that the incompetence of Airbnb sends customers their way). Once I checked in, I talked to Airbnb again and they offered me a subsidy on the hotel for the night. The next day, I went through the same routine and tried to book another Airbnb, but nobody responded on the site.

There were plenty of fake listings. In one case, two professional realtors had put up the same apartment on the site with vastly different prices and exactly the same photographs. I tried to learn more, but was rebuffed as soon as I pointed out this discrepancy. To summarize, I had to pay for a hotel for the entire trip. So, the cost of me staying in Philly on Airbnb would have been USD900; instead, it ended up being USD2250, blowing through my budget. To top it all, an Amazon package I had mailed to the fake address was not recovered either. It has been more than a week after my trip and the “case manager” has stalled and not resolved the problem despite repeated followups on their website and Twitter. Their strategy seems to be sticking their heads in the sand and hoping the issue goes away. Airbnb may be a fake company, but my experience was real. Stories like these are not going away.

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