Airbnb scams could be cheating travelers

By Dick Eppstein - Better Business Bureau

You are planning a summer trip and you want to save money. One great way is to stay at a bed and breakfast rental offered by the Airbnb Company. Airbnb doesn’t own these rental homes; it operates an online marketplace for lodging, primarily vacation homestays run by local families in the area. They may be cheaper than a hotel and many consumers find them friendly and fun.

But AAA has issued a warning that as Airbnb rentals become more popular, scammers have invaded the industry and set up rackets to steal your money and ruin your vacation.

Airbnb fraudsters are clever, and they know just how to pull off scams. When you go on the Airbnb web site to locate suitable lodging, the crooks know how to word their listing and upload deceiving photos so that they can get away with their con. AAA says there are a few things to watch out for.

Bait and switch: Right before you are about to depart on your vacation, the Airbnb host informs you that there is an issue like plumbing problems with the property you booked. But fortunately, they have an alternative option that’s available. Unfortunately, the new property is lackluster compared to the one you originally booked. Or the host will post photos of one property, but upon arrival, it’s something completely different than expected.

If the host asks you to switch properties, don’t comply. Let the host cancel the reservation, and you can find accommodations elsewhere. If you cancel, you will be responsible for the cost.

Charging for damages never caused: After you get home from your stay at an Airbnb, your host submits a complaint against you, stating that you left the property damaged. This comes as a complete shock to you since you left the property just the way you found it.

To avoid this scam, AAA suggests you snap photos of the property when you arrive and leave. This way, you have proof there was no damage done, and you’re not responsible. Even if there was damage, before and after photos will prove that you weren’t the culprit, and it was a guest before you.

Money Transfer: Hosts may request payment outside of the Airbnb platform. They may state that they will give you a discount if you pay them directly. If you agree and send payment, you’re no longer operating under Airbnb’s terms and conditions. Therefore, if the accommodations are a complete disaster, Airbnb is not responsible for making it right. Make sure to always submit payments through Airbnb. Also, make sure to save all text messages or emails from the hosts if something does go bad.

To help avoid becoming a victim of one of these scams, here are tips from AAA:

· If it doesn’t feel right, most likely it’s not. Be on the lookout for red flags. If you feel like something is off, you’re probably right. Check reviews and make sure the profiles look like real people. Often, hosts will create fake profiles to review their own property, skewing the ratings.

· Look closely at the photos. Low-quality photos are a red flag themselves. It could mean they took these photos off of another site. Photos that look generic or that look like they’re artist-rendered could be a bad sign. If the listing states specific amenities and there aren’t pictures of them, proceed with caution.

· Ask questions. Ask about what’s included, descriptions, and details.

· Don’t accept last-minute changes. If contacted by the host with last-minute issues with the rental, causing a change of unit, directly contact the company you booked through. All changes should go through the company. Don’t agree to any changes from the individual.

Airbnb reminds users to be cautious and skeptical of deals too good to be true, especially during popular and large events like tournaments and festivals. Read ratings and reviews. Be aware that leaving fraudulent reviews or replacing one listing for another violates Airbnb’s community standards. Airbnb advises users to report these issues as soon as possible. If you are concerned a post is a scam, contact Airbnb through the website or app. They are available to help 24/7 and can help with reimbursements, refunds and bookings.

Dick Eppstein is president of the Better Business Bureau, serving Northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan.

By Dick Eppstein

Better Business Bureau