Airbnb Rental Scams to Watch Out For

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Bookers Beware

From tiny homes to kid-friendly rentals, there’s an Airbnb for every type of travel. Many of its 4 million hosts and 5.6 million active listings are trustworthy and valid. However, many travelers’ daydreams have turned into nightmares due to scams. Vacation-rental frauds rob you of your time, money, and stress-free vacation plans. From fake bookings to non-existent plumbing problems, here are the top types of rip-offs floating around — and how you can keep from falling into the fraudsters’ traps on Airbnb and other sites such as Vrbo and Vacasa.


Related: How Much Is Your Age Group Affected by Online Fraud?

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Scam: Fake Listing

Some listings are entirely bogus, says Michelle Couch-Friedman, executive director of the consumer group Elliott Advocacy. “Many Airbnb users aren’t even aware that there is a possibility that a listing is fake. But the reality is that a percentage of the listings you see on the Airbnb site are not real,” she says. The counterfeit host must only trick someone once to make a profit. Swindlers have even created a software subscription service Land Lordz’ to automate the creation of phony listings.  


Related: 19 Things You Need to Know Before Booking an Airbnb

Wooden Table Top with Blur of Cozy Living Room

Solution: Be Wary of New Listings

Airbnb doesn’t physically vet properties, so travelers must do their homework. A listing with no property reviews should give you pause. “Of course, not all new listings are scams, but all scam listings are brand new,”  Couch-Friedman says. If you find a listing without reviews, lookout for other red flags like blurry or outdated photos or odd wording or grammatically incorrect descriptions of the property Couch-Friedman advises.


Scam: Fake Reviews

Hosts know that bookings hinge on great reviews. That’s why they’ll post false ones. They may set up dummy accounts themselves or hire spam or bot agencies to do it for them. Often, they’ll pick up reviews from other properties to make the feedback seem more legitimate.

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Bad reviews

Solution: Read Carefully

Look for the dates on reviews. Seeing reviews with recent dates and/or one right after the other can indicate the reviews are shams. You can also copy and paste key phrases from reviews into search engines to see if the reviewer is copying and pasting from another listing. “It may sound counter-intuitive, but look for a bad review,” says TravelFreak founder and CEO Jeremy Scott Foster. “We all know you can't please everyone. Fake reviewers will never have a bad review, so it’s a great signal that your holiday let is real when somebody hasn't enjoyed themselves as much.”


Related: Holiday Travel Horror Stories

Large, Perfect, Maintenance Free Home With Covered Porch

Scam: Fake Photos

Great photos can make or break a listing. Some deceitful hosts will grab stock photos to make their property look appealing and to justify a higher price. Of course, these photos don’t reflect what the accommodation looks like, and you’re not getting what you thought you were paying for.

Pristine Mountain Home

Solution: Verify the Images

“The best way to avoid being scammed like this is to reverse image search the property’s photos,” says real estate expert Jeff Johnson. “If the property looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you find images of the property lying around as stock photos, it’s a clear indication that the listing was fake.”

Planning out his business day on the road

Scam: Property Switch

This scenario has played out for countless victims: Shortly before a guest arrives, the host contacts them saying the property they booked is experiencing plumbing problems. Apologetically, the host offers a stay at another of their properties. The traveler arrives only to find the new place is a shack compared to the original booking — and wondering if the promised property ever existed in the first place. 

Angry businesswoman claiming on phone in an hotel room

Solution: Make the Host Cancel, Rebook

Jeff Johnson, real estate agent and acquisition manager of Simple Homebuyers, says the best solution is to refuse the alternate option and rebook one of your choosing. “If you have to, keep on arguing with them until they cancel,” he says. “Remember, if you cancel, the onus is on you to pay the cancellation fees. If you find yourself in a tough spot due to the cancellation, contact Airbnb to find alternative options.”

Bitcoin - Crypto Currency Wallet On A mobile Phone

Scam: Pay Outside of Airbnb

Hosts sometimes ask potential renters to pay outside of the Airbnb platform, whether through a wire transfer, a third-party payment site such as PayPal or Zelle, or even Bitcoin. Thrifty hosts may be trying to avoid the fees, but others are hoping to pick your pocket digitally. Hosts may also offer to extend your stay for a cash or digital payment rather than a rebooking through Airbnb.  

Making payments the simple way
Jay Yuno/istockphoto

Solution: Pay Only Through the Platform

Any invitation to leave the Airbnb site should be an immediate red flag. When you pay on Airbnb, the company holds the funds in abeyance, then releases it to the host (minus their fees). This protects you in case you decide to cancel, for which you’ll receive a credit, or other issues arise. If you decide to extend your stay, book again through Airbnb.  

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Scam: Fake Pages

Nick Wharton, of Goats on the Road travel blog, is a savvy booker, but in 2020 he nearly lost $3,300 to a fraudulent Airbnb account. After chatting online with a supposed host, Wharton received a link to book. But when Wharton navigated to the link to pay, he noticed it was a mock-Airbnb webpage, not the real Airbnb. The URL was off by only a few characters from the real site, and the difference would escape many guests’ notice.  

Concept of cyber crime, businesswoman using computer and show malware screen that comes with email, hack password from bank accounts and personal data.

Solution: Stay on Airbnb

Never navigate away from Airbnb. If you click on a link from a host, closely verify that you’re still using the Airbnb platform. Wharton advises, “If you’re booking on Airbnb, be very wary of communicating outside of the platform and don’t book apartments through any Airbnb websites that don’t look exactly like the regular site.”

Creepy dirty and abandoned bedroom

Scam: Systemizing Apartments

Professional Airbnb operators are grabbing newly built apartment buildings and turning them into short-term rentals. In London, in 2020, the rental frenzy inspired operators to systematize rentals by using the same photos and descriptions for listings for multiple real-life properties — not all of which looked like the photos. When the renters arrive, they’re often baffled to find a place that hardly resembles the booking they thought they were getting.

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Solution: Read the Reviews

“Reviews can literally make or break an Airbnb listing because you’re getting the inside scoop from someone that actually experienced the location,” says digital nomad Janelle (Jash) Cooper, of Joyriding with Jash. Reviews will reveal the real experiences of people who’ve stayed there — well, mostly.

Woman victim of credt card fraud

Scam: In for a Penny

Hosts may offer discounts or better rates if you book directly with them. However, once you navigate away from Airbnb, you’re susceptible to having your money stolen — and perhaps even your private information with it. Leaving the app “should be avoided at all costs especially before you’ve even been to the property. When you leave the platform, you no longer have the security of the app and leave everything up to chance,” Cooper says.  

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Solution: Negotiate in Airbnb

Cooper recommends negotiating — just stay in the app. “My biggest tip for savvy booking is to ask for a discount especially when you’re booking an extended stay,” she says. Message within the Airbnb platform and book the stay there too once the price has been settled.

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Scam: Best-Price Booking

Podcast host Dave Anthony ran afoul of this scam during his travels. As he found, hosts — and third-party booking sites — will list a single property at different rates. If the host receives a booking for a higher rate, they will cancel the lower-priced booking and leave the traveler hanging. As a make-good, the host will occasionally offer a back-up booking, though this accommodation is often lower quality than the initial lodging.


Related: Your New Air Travel Checklist

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Solution: Price Shop

If you believe you’re getting a property for a price that’s too good to be true, it likely is. Scan listings to see if the property you’re interested in is duplicated and at a higher price.

Man repairing collapsed ceiling.

Scam: Property Damage

When CJ Infantino arrived at his rental with his family in 2021, he got more than he bargained for: holes in the walls, dirty floors, and broken fixtures. After they checked out, they received a bill from the host for $1,500 in property damage they hadn’t caused. When this type of con occurs, the hosts often threaten to leave the traveler a poor review, which could cause eventual suspension from the site, or legal action to create urgency.

Woman explaining a kitchen ceiling incident to her homeowner's insurance company.. Concept of accident at home
Roberto Jimenez/istockphoto

Solution: Document, Document

If you arrive at a property and there’s damage, take photos of it immediately. Then, message the host with the images through the Airbnb app so there’s a record of your communications. In fact, this is always wise, says Couch-Friedman. “Keep all of your communication with the host within the Airbnb message center. That way if a scam does happen, you've got all the evidence you need to receive assistance from Airbnb,” she advises. When in doubt, contact Airbnb for assistance.


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