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National Scam in Airbnb Rentals


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#1 LFC

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 12:23 PM

People have figured out how to play the rules that Airbnb put in place to scam people out of their money. The "people" renting some of these properties don't even exist, people are steered to higher cost properties due to "emergencies", the places are shitholes that don't match the pictures, and getting your money back in nearly impossible. It does not sound like Airbnb is doing much of anything to stop it or make things right. Maybe that's because they have plans to go public next year and are just hoping this stays quiet. You can't have a scandal or a drop in revenue so just sweep it under the rug.

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While searching for the person who grifted me in Chicago, I discovered just how easy it is for users of the short-term rental platform to get exploited.

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s it turned out, I had accidentally stumbled upon a larger, more metastasized version of what researchers at a Los Angeles-based advocacy organization uncovered themselves while researching Airbnb in the middle of the decade. In 2015, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy released a report that said large rental companies in Los Angeles had started to profit off Airbnb by creating pseudonyms that helped them appear to be normal homeowners. The most prolific host that LAANE identified in LA was “ghc,” or Globe Homes and Condos, a now-defunct company that at one time ran an Airbnb profile using the pseudonyms “Danielle and Lexi.”

Airbnb’s Community Standards state that no host should “provide inaccurate information,” but Airbnb does not rigorously police the request, according to the report. “In spite of the fact that Danielle and Lexi received a verified ID, badge on their profile page, we have no way of knowing if they had any role in the properties other than having their photo taken,” the report stated. “This case also undermines one of the cornerstones of AirBnB’s business model, namely that the company’s ratings and identity verification system are a viable means by which travelers can vet their prospective hosts.”

James Elmendorf, a senior policy analyst at LAANE, told me that Airbnb’s weak verification process created the opportunity for those who were willing to exploit the platform through the creation of “faux, just-like-you personas.”

“Airbnb does no checking up on this whatsoever,” said Elmendorf. “They’re one of the most sophisticated companies in the world, and you’re telling me they can’t come up with a system that prevents this? Airbnb is doing that hand-wavy thing that tech companies do where they say, ‘We can’t solve this.' If they wanted to solve it, they would figure it out.”

The problem extends beyond my own scammer and beyond Los Angeles. The Better Business Bureau has received around 200 complaints about Airbnb through its “Scam Tracker” in the past three years, and about half of those were regarding fake profiles, spokesperson Katherine Hutt told me. The use of fake profiles does not necessarily translate into a bad customer experience. Many people don’t care whose home they’re staying in—they just want something cheaper than a hotel. But by allowing hosts to easily operate under fake identities, Airbnb has set up a system that allows scammers like mine to thrive.

Feeling I had all the evidence I needed to prove my point to Airbnb, I emailed the company’s press team a long note, asking them, among other things, how they make sure that people are accurately representing themselves on their profiles and how case managers are directed to deal with allegations of fraud.

A little more than 24 hours later, a company flak responded in an emailed statement.

“Engaging in deceptive behavior such as substituting one listing for another is a violation of our Community Standards,” the flak wrote. “We are suspending the listings while we investigate further.”

That was it. No one at the company ever agreed to speak on the record about the specifics of what I uncovered. Nor would anyone answer any of my questions about Airbnb's verification process. As far as what obligation it has to people who have fallen victim to a scam on Airbnb's platform, the company only said in an email that it is "here 24/7 to support with rebooking assistance, full refunds and reimbursements" in cases of fraud or misrepresentation by hosts. Maybe Airbnb couldn't get more detailed about its verification process because it doesn't have much of one at all. I had asked the company about three accounts—Annie and Chase, Becky and Andrew, and Kris and Becky. Annie and Chase’s account has been deleted, and the two others no longer have any listings posted, which, due to Airbnb’s messaging constraints, means I could not message them for comment. Of the six other accounts I'd connected to the scheme, five are still active weeks later. Only Kelsey and Jean’s has disappeared from the site.

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#2 Practical Girl

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 02:18 PM

Yes. You have to be very careful. I have a friend who runs vacations rentals-some VRBO, some Airbnb. She had a situation where a scammer represented himself as her company online. On the down low. Took the money, left her with a mess.
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