I like Airbnb, as both a guest and a host. It’s a wonderful service and has a huge variety of fascinating places to stay all over the world.

But these days, scams are everywhere. And remember, this is no fault of the Airbnb itself – respected institutions such as banks, newspapers etc. have been used by villains for centuries. (And we don’t blame our email providers when we get contacted by Nigerian scammers, do we?)

It seems that one of the most common one is the ‘contact me before you book’ scam. I tend to read about this almost every day.

‘PLEASE CONTACT ME TO BOOK’

Airbnb allows hosts and guests to use their site completely free of charge. Hosts do not have to pay to advertise their properties and guests can browse to their hearts’ content. It’s only when a booking is made that both parties pay a small commission. Hosts and guests alike think this is a great deal for such a fantastic service.

However, some hosts are so greedy that they want to circumvent this. Yes, they want to list their property entirely free, making full use of the technology, popularity and security that Airbnb provides without paying the modest fee.

HOW DO THEY DO THAT?

The Airbnb system is set up in such a way that potential guests can contact future hosts on the site’s messaging system. For example, before booking a guest might want to know how far away the property is from the beach or whether the wifi signal is strong.

Hosts like these online conversations too because it helps them to determine whether the potential guest is a good fit for the property. (Note that hosts have the option to decline guests who might be unsuitable – yet another advantage of the service).

When people are messaging on the system, they find that it automatically censors numbers (long ones – i.e. phone numbers), email addresses and web addresses. This is understandable because these would be ways in which the guest and host could make a private agreement cutting out Airbnb’s fees. Just good common sense, right?

INFO IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS

For those hosts who want to circumvent the system, it’s unfortunately easy for them to do. Before these hosts upload their photographs of the property, they use photoshop to doctor or create an image. Well, actually they more than likely use a free photo-editing service because the results are invariably ugly. Here’s an example:

air_scam

You can see what they’ve done here. Software exists to censor text on a website but cannot identify words on images.

BUT HANG ON. IT’S NOT QUITE LEGIT BUT WOULDN’T IT BE A GREAT WAY TO GET A CHEAPER STAY?

I can imagine some people thinking ‘well, it’s not exactly a crime is it? No-one will find out and if it can save me a couple of dollars on a two week stay then why not?’ Let me tell you why not.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that it’s pretty dodgy morally. But you see, what happens with these scammers is that more often than not, the rental property in question simply doesn’t exist. Imagine finding yourself in Mumbai or Amsterdam or Paris and finding that the accommodation you’ve paid good money for just isn’t there.

Now if you booked legitimately through the Airbnb platform and had any problems with your accommodation when you got there, you can contact Airbnb and they will find you alternative accommodation.

This happened recently to me as a host. Airbnb contacted me and said that a lady had booked two local places and found them both unsatisfactory – could I accommodate her for one night? (I did, gladly). That is the sort of protection you have when you have booked a legitimate place via Airbnb.

IF YOU SEE ACCOMMODATION THAT IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, THEN YOU’RE PROBABLY RIGHT

The graphic above was part of a listing for a fabulous apartment at a low price. Of course, to a regular Airbnb user, the ‘contact me’ graphic would have had them immediately move on. But now, let’s look at just one of the images from another listing:

air_scam_2

Really? You’re going to get a spacious apartment, complete with grand piano, at a bargain price? Look carefully at the photographs and you’ll find that most of them look like architect’s renderings – they are not realistic at all. Like this:

airbnbscamrendering

Looks great, doesn’t it? Look again. This is an artist’s rendering – and they are easily copied from the internet. (Take a look at the plant on the left hand side of the image – a complete giveaway). The more you look at the image, the more you realise that it isn’t a genuine photograph.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THESE LISTINGS?

These fake and scammy listings are spoiling the service for everyone.

  • They are bad for the guest. Often, guests discover that they have handed over money – sometimes thousands of dollars – to find that the place they have ‘rented’ doesn’t exist. The scammed guest will then tell everyone they know or write a post on the internet about their experience which puts potential guests off using what is actually a fabulous service
  • They are damaging to other hosts. When these scammers are outed on the internet, it causes distrust in others. 99.9% of Airbnb hosts are hardworking people who strive to ensure that you have a great stay with them. Their integrity is questioned, thanks to the illegal listings
  • They are bad for the reputation of Airbnb. There are 2,000,000 properties listed on Airbnb. These are all over the world and provide fabulous accommodation. But the press is always eager to write about an ‘Airbnb nightmare’ – why? Because Airbnb is a popular service and writing about it, particularly in a negative way, is a great way to get attention and hits. Pure sensationalism

So we all have a responsibility to ensure that these listings are removed and it’s simple to do.

airbnbscamreport

To the right of every accommodation page, you’ll see the button above. Just click the button (you don’t have to be logged in) and Airbnb will investigate the listing and, if it violates any of their terms and conditions, the listing will be instantly removed.

The two ‘contact me’ photographs above were copied directly from the internet this morning. Just a few hours later, the entire listings were removed by Airbnb.

Please, if you see a fake listing, report it at once to keep the sharing economy honest and safe for all.

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