Airbnb's easily gamed reputation system and poor customer service allow scammers to thrive

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I’ve used Airbnb a half a dozen times successfully. But I have to admit that I’m usually very nervous about it. On two of my previous trips, including one last month, I make sure to make a list with numbers of nearby hotels that had vacancies … just in case. That’s a nice situation to be in, when you’re traveling someplace where that’s possible. I understand that often folks book Airbnb for instances where a hotel isn’t going to work.

My most recent trip I booked an apartment for a month that had no reviews at all (a new listing).

But the reason I’m commenting is because I encountered what I determined to be a “nest” of these in London back in 2014. I was looking for an apartment for 10 days with rather flexible dates. There were two places that I contacted the lister about to ask questions (what floor is it on? is there an oven or just the two burner stove shown in the photos?). When I asked, they said that the location was not available for the range of dates (even though they were shown on the calendar) and they referred me to a different property in Notting Hill (which seemed nice but was about 50% more expensive and not in the location we wanted). The odd thing was that two different “people” said that it was their property, even though it wasn’t listed under their name. (The postings are no longer on Airbnb, so I can’t point to them.) I got so skittish about it, I ended up booking a hotel instead. (Which was really nice, had a kitchenette in a great location for less than most of the airbnbs in the area.)

After the trip I did some image comparisons and saw that the listings that I was trying to get in the Holborn Station area were posted on multiple sites, with conflicting calendars of availability … which indicated to me that their tactic was to post a bunch of bogus places and then refer them to the janky place that they were actually selling. My guess is that it would cloak the review process for the apartment that you actually ended up staying in and then they’d dump the avatar referral apartments and host identities when they got too “real.”


I am in “several” FB groups devoted to AirBnB and VRBO Vacation Rental discussions because I have one. (the groups are for HOSTS, not Travelers).

The comments range from “Wow!” to victim blaming, the worst one so far being from a guy saying
“she writes these for publicity. She has a following.10k followers on twitter she needs to give juicy shocking content. Just like when you read an article or documentary they make you think one way and take a side.”

He backed down when pressed about what the “other side” was like, especially since the reporter tried pretty hard to give the “other side” a voice and they chose to ghost her.

Many other commenters blamed the author for their actions and not immediately seeing the transaction as a “red flag”.
Never mind that these were fake listings.
Never mind that the transactions were all done within the AirBnB platform.

Thanks Trump for normalizing crime. It is the victim’s fault obviously.


I take taxis to hotels. Yes, a taxi is a bit more expensive, but if you’re worried about workers getting paid and getting benefits, you really should prefer taxis to “ride-share” services, and smartphone “convenience” be damned. And there are cute, nice hotels and B&Bs.


Apparently it’s every generation’s curse to manually rediscover why government regulations exist to begin with.




The one time I was scammed by a commerical property manager who told me the property was unavailable only after I arrived at my destination (and pretending she’d e-mailed and left voicemail messages about cancelling the booking months before), Airbnb’s customer service was pretty good about finding me an equivalent booking at the same price and paying for taxis.

However, when I checked later I noticed they didn’t remove the scammer or her property from their listings, meaning someone else is going to get burned, too. They also hid my one-star review that identified her as a scammer when she contested it. I’m sure she’s not the only property manager who lists on multiple services and just takes the highest price for those given dates at the last minute.


That article is a good read! Written by someone who got scammed, couldn’t get help from AirBnB, & started digging just that much harder. As she points out, AirBnB makes money from these scams. And now:

Update 11/1/19:* The morning after this article was published, the FBI contacted VICE about the claims made above.


Oh, I did have another question about this scam. I use a credit card when I pay for Airbnb and Hotels because they allow me to use the “contest charges” part of their service. Could that have been an option in some of these cases?


Yes, that’s right. But for every 10,000 consumers who are ripped off, there is one unscrupulous operator who plays golf with the congressman on the committee. Guess who gets to write the rules, or decide that rules aren’t needed because Freedom™. Spoiler alert: not the 10,000 consumers.


I was thinking the interstate nature of these operations opens them up to all sorts of interesting wire-fraud-family indictments.


I’m also a bit interested in how the scammers are defeating the insulation that airbnb host/guest reviews are supposed to have from each other. To wit, you don’t get to see the review someone left for you as a host until you’ve submitted your writeup for a guest. And vice-versa.

Of course, if the guest has phone conversations during the actual supposed rental period, and they’re angry, the host should already understand where they’re going to be going with the review. Lesson for guests here is to be poker-faced about the whole thing and handle the review, like revenge, as a dish best served cold.


As a homeowner I find airbnb to be both foolish and an abomination.

In the overwhelming majority of cases involving something other than a single family house, that airbnb listing is either illegal, violates the lease or community bylaws. Airbnb disavows any liabilities caused by such violations. People who rent out apartments to airbnb create security and safety risks for fellow tenants/residents. Hosting is essentially putting up a big sign, “abuse my property or use it for illegal purposes!”


Stories like this are what make me disinclined to go with things like AirBnB, even though the occurrence is probably rather rare. OTOH, I’ve used other vacation rental services successfully, so YMMV.


I’m finding that I might be forced to go with AirBNB for my trip to the Olympics in Japan next year as the availbility in hotels is next to non existent, and where there is availability it can run at more than $2500 a night.

The whole idea terrifies me, because if I’m scammed, or if something goes wrong, I’ll basically be there without anywhere to stay as obviously all the hotels will be completely booked up. I’m not even convinced only picking superhosts will be of any use (I’d assume they’re less likely to scam me, but something could still go wrong).

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an undetected scam created by some person or organization that had figured out just how easy it is to exploit Airbnb’s poorly written rules in order to collect thousands of dollars through phony listings, fake reviews, and, when necessary, intimidation.

There’s one flaw with this excellent case of investigative journalism and that is the assumption that this was undetected, Airbnb 100% knows about these scams and doesn’t care as long as they keep making money.


If you go through that trouble, why bother with AB&B at all?


Price, I’d think.


My own Airbnb experiences are as follows: 1st one felt like a college dorm, hosted by single guy. Second one was a funky decorated heritage house, operated by a massage therapist (and may have been a brothel for hire, not certain, as her ‘niece’ answered the door in her underwear. Possibly a coincidence.) Third home felt like a distant aunt & uncle hosting you in their well appointed guest room (which they listed to raise money for their child’s pricey wedding.) I can see in each case, what motivated the host to list their homes. But in spite of the horror stories I’ve heard or read, I still have as much concern for the hosts as well as the guests. Guests who may be explicitly laying low as they spread their ‘Breaking Bad’ level schemes across the landscape. What a tangled web we’re in!


Is an AB&B like $10-20 a night?

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