10 Airbnb scams: What to look out for

Tara Locke

February 27, 2024

  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Payment Protection
  • # Account Protection

When you look forward to a well-deserved vacation, you’re thinking about relaxing and taking time away from any kind of stress. But in that pre-travel bliss, you might miss one key consideration: scams. 

No matter how safe Airbnb might seem, you need to take precautions when you book a stay. Airbnb scams exist, and if you fall victim, there might be more damage than just a ruined vacation. Your personal data, financial information, and even belongings could end up in the wrong hands. 

Here’s everything you need to know about how Airbnb scams work, what tell-tale signs to look out for, and how to protect your vacation plans.

Is Airbnb safe?

Airbnb is a legitimate booking platform that allows you to rent other people’s homes, rooms in boutique hotels, and even campsites. The app can also pair you with local hosts guiding sightseeing experiences. 

As a serious enterprise, Airbnb takes safety precautions to protect its users. The company uses machine learning and predictive analytics to monitor for fraud, and it’s implemented multi-factor authentication on account access so that only you can see your information.

However, you can get scammed on Airbnb. Not every user is honest, and given that Airbnb is a virtual platform, it’s vulnerable to cyber crimes like phishing and hacking. 

Why is it important to be aware of Airbnb scams?

Airbnb scams range from account takeovers to listing fake reviews or properties. They can happen to guests and hosts alike. But no matter the type of Airbnb scam, the goal is generally the same: to take a victim’s data or money. 

One key factor in Airbnb scams is that they could happen when you’re traveling. You don’t want to land in a foreign country and discover that the listing you booked isn’t as described — or worse, doesn’t even exist. The situation could become more dangerous than a typical phishing scam or bank fraud.

Learning to spot Airbnb scams can help you protect your personal information, prevent unauthorized third parties from accessing your Airbnb profile or other accounts, and ensure that dishonest hosts or cyber criminals can’t steal from you. You’ll be able to spot when something seems illegitimate and save yourself from a bad experience.

10 common Airbnb scams to be aware of 

Since Airbnb is a generally safe platform, you should be okay unless you run into a scammer or hacker. You just have to know how to spot fraudsters and prevent them from doing any damage.

Here are 10 popular Airbnb scams to have on your radar:

Airbnb scams by hosts

Dishonest or fake hosts are at the helm of several types of Airbnb schemes, so be careful when interacting with them. Airbnb tries to make sure all listings are legitimate, but some scammers do get past the system.

Here are a few common host scams to watch out for:

  1. Fake listings: In this scam, hosts list properties that don’t exist or that they don’t actually own. They may sweeten the deal by offering a great property at a too-good-to-be-true price. When you try to book the listing, the Airbnb host might try to get you to pay outside the platform — a huge red flag. But you also might not spot this scam until you arrive at the home and see that it doesn’t exist or that you can’t stay there.

  2. Fake reviews: Reading a stellar review of an Airbnb property instills trust and can even convince you to book. But sometimes, those five stars don’t come from real former guests. Dishonest hosts make fake accounts to leave excellent reviews on their properties and ask people they know to do the same. That’s why it’s wise to book listings with many reviewers — a host could write 10 fake comments, but likely not 100.

  3. Off-platform transactions: Some hosts may try to get you to book or pay outside Airbnb, which is against Airbnb’s policies for a reason. The listing may be fake, and the person’s trying to trap you into making payment for a rental that doesn’t exist. The listing may also be legitimate, and the host is aiming to collect two payments: one from you offline and another when Airbnb inevitably charges you. 

  4. Damage fees: Airbnb reserves the right to charge guests for any property damage that happens during a stay. Dishonest hosts may take advantage of this and insist that you pay damage fees when you check out, even if you left the space exactly as you found it. If you refuse, the host may try to make a case with Airbnb. Protect yourself by taking photos of your rental when you check in and out so that if someone tries to pull this scam on you, you have evidence you took good care of the space. 

Airbnb scams by guests 

If you’re thinking about renting your home on Airbnb or are already a host, looking out for guest scams can save you from financial or physical damage. Here are a few common ones: 

  1. Fake profiles: The person who stays in your home may not be who they say they are. They could use a stolen ID and fake photos on their profile. A person might run this scam to hold a party in your home and walk away free of any incidentals for damage, and Airbnb could have trouble tracking down the real person behind the scam to hold them accountable. 

  2. Key copying: If you use physical keys at your property (or don’t often change the code on your keypad), guests who stay at your place once can return without your knowledge. This can be incredibly dangerous if you live there or are renting it out to more people. Prevent unwanted visits and, potentially, theft by constantly changing keys and codes. 

  3. Lies about the state of a property: A guest may lie about your property, citing poor cleanliness or faulty amenities that aren’t real. Some even plant damaging evidence, like bedbugs, to get a refund. These scammy guests submit dishonest photos and information so that you give them back their money to “right” the situation — even when it’s not your fault.

Other Airbnb scams

Malicious actors who aren’t necessarily Airbnb guests and hosts can also scam you on this platform. Here are a few Airbnb-related cyber crimes to be aware of:

  1. Phishing scams: A phisher may send you a text or email claiming to be an Airbnb employee. The message may sound legitimate, but it’s an attempt to get your personal information. Never give sensitive data via text or email or click on links or attachments, just in case the message is part of a scam. If there’s a real problem, contact Airbnb through the app.

  2. Unauthorized Airbnb account access: Hackers could crack your login credentials and gain access to your private accounts — including Airbnb. A cyber criminal could take over your Airbnb account and use it to make a reservation in your name, so look out for bookings you didn’t make. They could also use Airbnb to gain access to sensitive information like your ID.

  3. Identity theft scams: Unauthorized Airbnb account access is a form of identity theft — and you could also fall victim to a larger scheme if a cyber criminal gets access to more information. Anyone with your personal and financial information could make charges in your name, hack into other accounts, or impersonate you to get a line of credit.

How to know if an Airbnb host is legit

Many Airbnb scams happen when you book a property that doesn’t match your expectations — or even exist at all. As a potential guest, you have to stay vigilant when booking a property so you (and your vacation) stay safe. Here’s how to spot a dishonest host:

  1. Thoroughly review the listing: If a listing seems too good to be true or has suspiciously few ratings (or bad ones), it could be a scam. Check out the host’s profile, too, by clicking on their photo. Hosts with lots of great reviews and the superhost badge are generally trustworthy. 

  2. Avoid taking the conversation offline: Use Airbnb’s internal messaging system to communicate with hosts. You’ll have an easier time getting help from the app’s customer service team if you have a problem, and you’ll be less likely to fall victim to a scam on messaging platforms like Telegram and WhatsApp. 

  3. Pay on Airbnb: Never pay for a stay outside the app. A host who pushes you to do so may be trying to scam you. Even if the property is legitimate, Airbnb could charge you for a stay you already paid for off-app because it won’t know you already paid. What’s more, if you don’t use Airbnb’s internal payment system, there’s less the platform can do to help you out of a scam. 

Enjoy safer stays with help from IronVest 

Travel is supposed to be fun — so put the right measures in place to avoid scams and vacation worry-free. Always stay with hosts who honestly represent their properties and respect the platform’s policies. 

You’ll sleep even better before your vacation knowing your data is safe — even if you’ve unwittingly fallen victim to an Airbnb scam — thanks to IronVest. This security super app puts biometric protection on your accounts so that even if a phisher or hacker has your login credentials, they can’t enter. Plus, you can pay for your bookings with a tokenized virtual card so that unauthorized third parties never see your real credit card number.

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