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Although many Americans end up leaving unused vacation days on the table every year, most of us would love to take a trip somewhere new. And fortunately, there are now travel platforms that can allow us to find a feasible means of overnight stay without staying at an expensive or impersonal hotel chain. But whether you’re one of the 63% of brides who feel pressured to have the perfect wedding (and perhaps plan a perfect honeymoon) or you simply want to have the best family vacation possible, you might not want to throw caution to the wind when booking with Airbnb, similar to avoiding pesky telemarketing scams.
That’s because this platform is far from perfect — and may not guarantee the safety of hosts or guests, thanks in large part to its unique business model. Although there were 16.7 million victims of identity fraud in 2017, the concern surrounding Airbnb isn’t that your personal information might be exposed; it’s that you might not ever know for sure that your hosts are who they say they are or that the property you’re booking is the one that you’ll see when you arrive.
Our modern world uses plastic for nearly everything. From the household products created from the reaction injection molding process to the credit cards we use to book a stay, we don’t tend to think twice about our habits. But before you reserve a room, you might want to watch out for some major red flags.
In fact, VICE just uncovered a nationwide scam that targets Airbnb guests — a story that prompted the company to pledge to verify all listings and all hosts on the platform. But since the criteria for verification is vague and may not cover everything short-term renters need to obtain peace of mind, it’s really up to the consumer to pay attention and do their homework before agreeing to book.
So what should you keep an eye out for? For one thing, take your time when investigating a given listing. If a rental property has very few photos (or images that are low quality or that don’t show everything you need to see), beware. You might even want to run some of the photos through Google reverse image search to see if they’re being used to promote multiple listings — another huge sign that there’s something scammy going on. A property that has very few reviews, a number of cancelation alerts, or scant descriptions should also be viewed with skepticism. If you’re able, Google the address of the listing to verify that it’s real.
Cost and communication should also be evaluated prior to solidifying your reservation. If the cost seems too good to be true, chances are that it is. That’s especially true if you’re booking last-minute or you know that your destination will be a highly desirable one during that given time. And while your host should be accommodating and responsive, you should not fall victim to any pleas to conduct business off the platform. All communication and payment should take place through Airbnb itself, even if the host promises a better price via another method. Don’t ever pay with a wire transfer or money order — and if you’re asked to take any part of the transaction off the platform, report the incident to Airbnb and start looking elsewhere. Make sure that you verify the URL of the Airbnb booking platform, as well, since some sites have been created in an effort to trick consumers into paying through a different (and non-secure) portal. Keep in mind that if your host suddenly goes silent leading up to your trip, you might want to have a backup plan. Rather than end up in a desperate situation upon arrival (which is when many guests fall victim to the “bait and switch” scheme), contact Airbnb if you aren’t able to get in touch with your hosts. The same applies if you discover major problems after arrival; be sure to contact Airbnb within the first 24 hours for a better chance of resolution. And if a host wants to make last-minute changes to your booking or claims there are safety issues that would keep you from staying at the original property, don’t succumb to your panic. Instead, contact Airbnb and stay calm. By not accepting the listing, you can escalate the issue and potentially protect others from the same scheme.
To a certain extent, using platforms like these will always be a bit of a gamble. In many cases, it really does pay off — and there are countless hosts operating on the platform that want nothing more than for you to have an amazing stay. But it’s important to be discerning, rather than take a blind leap of faith. Otherwise, you might end up in something other than paradise.