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Common Airbnb scams and how to avoid them

Family entering a protected Airbnb

Whether you’re renting a cozy ski cabin in Vermont or an upscale apartment in central London, staying at an Airbnb® can make a vacation feel a little more like home.

But scammers are out there, trying to take advantage of hosts and guests alike. Between 2015 and 2020, there were more than 28,000 complaints on Twitter about scams on Airbnb, according to a 2021 report from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the University of Colorado School of Public Affairs in Colorado Springs. Of those complaints, 41% related to multiple listings, 26% claimed rentals weren't as described, and 20% related to an account being hacked.

Don't worry though, we'll walk you through what you need to know to avoid these scams. Here at Asurion, we not only fix and protect ​​your tech—we teach you how to navigate our connected world, from eight smart home devices every Airbnb host should have to how Airbnb hosts can keep their appliances in top shape for guests. Here’s our guide to common Airbnb scams and the do’s and don’ts to avoiding them.

Common Airbnb scams by hosts

Is Airbnb safe? Yes, and most Airbnb hosts and Airbnb guests have good experiences with the short-term rental company. But can you get scammed on Airbnb? Absolutely. Unfortunately, there are a handful of Airbnb scams by hosts lurking on the platform, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. Here’s what to look out for if you’re looking for a short-term rental.

Fake listing scam

The last thing you want is to arrive in Chicago for your friend’s wedding, and take a taxi to your Airbnb, only to find out that it’s‌ a hardware store. This is a scam, where the perpetrators create a false listing with a fake address, and then pass it off as a nice place to stay. Airbnb does watch out for these scams, but it doesn’t always catch them.

How to avoid it. To make sure a listing is real and not an Airbnb scam, Google® the address once the host shares it with you. Make sure it’s a legitimate residence, and use Street View® on Google Maps to confirm the exterior of the house matches the listing.

Too good to be true

If a listing seems too good to be true, like a penthouse at a low nightly rate or an affordable house with impeccable decor, it just might be. Be wary of photoshopped images and highly edited photos, which scammers may use to make a lower-quality property look nicer than it‌ is.

How to avoid it. Try a reverse Google image search. It lets you look online using an image rather than a word or phrase. If the pictures included in the listing show up as stock photography or appear in other homes, the listing is a scam. To learn how to search with an image on Google, follow these step-by-step instructions for your computer, Android™ device, iPhone®, and iPad®.

Another way to protect yourself is to ask the host for more photos or a video walkthrough of their home. Also, if the cost of a rental seems shockingly low, do your homework. Airbnb lets you look up the average price for properties in a given area—if the cost of an apartment in Vail at peak ski season is $100 a night, think twice.

Bait-and-switch scam

This scam starts when an Airbnb host lures you in with a desirable listing at a competitive price. Then, after you’ve paid but right before you check in, the host says the original listing is no longer available. Whatever the reason—a double booking, a maintenance problem—the host offers you an alternate property instead, only it’s more expensive or not as nice as the original. The problem is, since you probably need a place to stay and have already paid, you may feel forced to take the lesser deal. Don’t do it. Agreeing to a switch like this makes it hard to report the scam to Airbnb and get reimbursed.

How to avoid it. These are tricky scams to spot, but reading positive and negative reviews, communicating with the host, and doing reverse-image searches online can help. Also, listen to your gut—if a listing seems off, keep scrolling.

The host asks you to pay outside the Airbnb system

A rule on Airbnb is to always pay (and communicate) through the platform. If a host asks you to pay via check, paper invoice, wire or bank transfer, or a third-party app—even if they promise you a discount or added perk—don’t do it. It’s a known scam, notorious for preventing guests from reporting fraud and recouping their money.

How to avoid it. The safest way to send money to a host is through Airbnb itself. To protect guests from fraud, Airbnb doesn’t release your payment to the host until the day after you check in. But if you pay for a property off-site, your transaction no longer falls within the company’s scope, which means you can’t contest fraud or start a refund if the listing is a scam.

To learn more, read Airbnb’s support page on the topic, including how to report a suspicious message.

False charges after checkout

In this scam, a host accuses a guest of damaging parts of their home and requests reimbursement. Sometimes, guests really do violate house rules or break something, but if the claim is fraudulent, the host is trying to take advantage of the situation and squeeze more money out of the guest.

How to avoid it. As soon as you check in to your Airbnb, take photos or videos of the property to document its condition. If you notice preexisting damage, send it to your host via the Airbnb platform. If you do get a reimbursement request, review it carefully and reply right away, sending your evidence to Airbnb within 24 hours. If the company decides you’re not responsible, you won’t be charged.

Hidden cameras

Airbnb allows hosts to place security cameras in public places (like the driveway and front door) and in common areas (like the foyer) as long as they’re disclosed in advance. But hidden cameras in private areas violate Airbnb rules—and your own privacy.

How to avoid it. When you arrive at your Airbnb, look for cameras that were disclosed in the listing, and make sure they’re not located in private areas, like bathrooms and bedrooms. You should also scan the home for out-of-place electronics, small holes, and lens reflections, all of which could be signs of hidden cameras. If you do find something, alert Airbnb immediately.

Common Airbnb scams by guests

If you’re an Airbnb host, here’s what to look out for from potential guests.

Unauthorized guests

When guests book your property, they commit to a certain number of people staying in your home. In this scam, they sneak in an extra person (or more) without you knowing. The result can range from extra wear and tear to guests throwing a party without your permission.

How to avoid it. Communicate with potential guests before accepting their request to rent your home. Ask a few questions and try to get to know them—it'll help give you peace of mind about who you’re renting to. If something seems off, it’s OK to say no. And if you haven’t already, install a video doorbell. It lets you keep track of who's coming and going from your home, and it won't violate Airbnb policies or your guests' privacy. 

To learn more, check out our guide to installing a Ring™ Video Doorbell and what to do if yours isn’t working.

The guest asks you to communicate outside the Airbnb system

If a guest wants to message you outside of Airbnb, like via text message or WhatsApp®, they’re likely trying to avoid certain fees, make a deal, or circumvent the company’s policies. All can be part of a scam.

How to avoid it. Never communicate with potential guests outside the Airbnb app or website, and don’t accept payment outside Airbnb either. Doing so ensures your money and property are protected if something goes wrong.

Fake profile or fake guest scam

In this scam, people book a property using a fake profile on Airbnb. Then, when they show up, they throw parties, damage your home, and even refuse to leave. 

How to avoid it. Be wary of profiles that lack details, photos, and reviews from other hosts—these are signs a profile is fake. Instead, look for guests who have full profiles, including reviews from other hosts. You can also ask them to share a photo and some information about themselves before accepting their offer.

Other Airbnb red flags for hosts and guests

Still wondering, How do you tell if someone is scamming you on Airbnb? Here are some more signs to look out for if you’re an Airbnb host or guest.

The listing lacks detail

A great host gives lots of detail about all aspects of their rental, including amenities, decor, location, and of course, the number of rooms, bathrooms, and bedrooms. When a listing lacks detail, avoid it.

The guest’s profile lacks detail

An incomplete guest profile is a common sign of a scammer. If someone is trying to rent your home but their profile lacks basic information or reviews from other hosts, they may not be who they say they are.

The listing is new

Being a home’s very first guest can be tricky—without reviews to read, it’s hard to know whether the rental is legitimate or not. In this case, make sure to communicate with the host to get a sense of the place and the person renting it.

The guest is brand new to Airbnb

If someone with a brand new profile wants to rent your home, they may be trustworthy and honest—or they may be a scammer who’s created lots of fake accounts on Airbnb. Look up the guest on social media, ask for a photo, and send them a few questions to answer.

The host or guest messages you with a suspicious link

Whether you’re inside the Airbnb system, on your personal email, or using your work computer, never click an unknown link. This kind of scam, called phishing, lets cybercriminals illegally obtain your personal information, including credit card numbers and logins. 

To learn more about protecting your credit info and logins, check out our guide on how to spot phishing attempts and stay safe online.

The host is slow to respond

Airbnb hosts have 24 hours to accept or decline a rental request, but most respond within 12 hours, and many reply even sooner. While time zones and lack of internet access can slow down response times, good hosts are prompt. So if a host isn’t replying to you—especially after you’ve paid your deposit—they could be ghosting you.

One way to avoid this is to look for properties run by Airbnb Superhosts. They’re top-rated hosts with a 4.8+ overall rating and a track record of giving highly rated stays, responding quickly, and hardly ever canceling.

Follow basic online safety practices

This may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t follow online safety guidelines. For starters, remember to use strong passwords, and if you’re using the same password for multiple accounts, make sure to change your Airbnb password to a unique one. (A password manager can help you keep track of them all). 

To learn more, check out our guides to staying safe online, how to keep your credit card secure, and the default settings you should change to protect your privacy.

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