This summer I booked a vacation house in France on Booking.com and an apartment in Ibiza on Airbnb. For the first time in my extensive travel life, it turned out that I booked two scams for non-existent properties. I had paid a substantial deposit for the house in France. For the apartment in Ibiza I had not only paid a deposit but also the full rent, together a few thousand euros.
I had booked a beautiful vacation house in France on Booking.com. As indicated on the website, I had to pay a deposit of euro 2,200. I transferred the amount to the ‘owner’ of the house. Due to certain circumstances, I had to cancel the house, and requested the ‘owner’ refund my deposit. There was no response and certainly no money. I contacted Booking.com, who asked for different evidence. After a long process, and emails with apologies stating that they were investigating the case, Booking.com refunded the total amount of the deposit.
With Airbnb, the first email from the Trust and Safety team started with the sentence that Airbnb was working hard on a reliable and secure website, but that in rare cases attempts at fraud happen. If you look at Twitter accounts and websites detailing circumstances like these, there are daily reports of new scams. There are certainly not only attempts and it also is not rare. This does not seem to interest Airbnb.
The email continued with a number of standard tips which might have been useful if they pop up when you open their site, but certainly not after all the misery has happened. It’s closed with the announcement that this transaction took place outside the Airbnb platform, and therefore they can’t provide support or compensation for offsite payments. I think that Airbnb forgets that the scam started on their website. What does Airbnb do for fraud prevention?
Therefore, the question that remains for me: how could this apartment end up on the Airbnb website? That is where the scam started. Wiser through my own research, I took one of the photos of the scam apartment and scanned it through Google images; this apartment also appeared on another site with a different owner and another location. A very simple and quick check.
In addition, Airbnb also does not advise you to contact the owner directly. Why is it possible that this option is offered on the Airbnb site? This is a safety check that does not seem so difficult to build in. Last but not least, how does the identity check go when placing a house on Airbnb? In my second email with Airbnb I asked for the full name and identity check of the person I ‘rented’ from. I did not get an answer to this question and the mail ended with ‘this is our last email regarding this case’. Indeed, I did not get any answers anymore.
Aside from the fact that this is very customer unfriendly, I have no evidence to go after my money. I have a strong suspicion that Airbnb cannot provide me with this proof, simply because it is not there. On the aforementioned Twitter page, it also appears that it is very easy to open an Airbnb account with a fake identity. Scammers even use Airbnb photos of bona fide placements on Airbnb.
It is no surprise that the Airbnb has to adjust their conditions of the European Commission for better consumer protection. Exactly the same case is reported in an article of The Guardian on July 15, 2017. A businessman lost £4,139 through an Airbnb scam. Following intervention, and in the face of a threatened social media campaign by the businessman, Airbnb performed an about turn: it agreed to send him the money he lost. Apparently you have to put a lot of pressure before Airbnb takes responsibility. Not everybody is in a position to do so, which makes it unequal treatment.
To conclude, I believe that Airbnb cannot hide behind warnings and the fine print. I and many others would not have been scammed if Airbnb’s screening process was good. After all, the misery starts on the Airbnb website. With a few simple checks – and especially good identity checks – a lot of suffering can be prevented. The European Commission, which has already taken steps to protect Airbnb consumers, should certainly also pay attention to this. At this moment, I would advise anyone to book on Booking.com or another reliable website. Booking.com does not offer only hotels, but also very nice apartments and houses.