The popularity of Airbnb also means scammers like to target their unsuspecting customers. Here are 6 ways to protect yourself.
You may recall how a Singaporean woman was scammed out of almost S$52,000, by scammers who created a spoof Airbnb website.
Now we all love Airbnb as a great way to save money, and to find locations more convenient than even many hotels provide.
But nothing gets us down like scammers who abuse a great idea. Here’s how to use Airbnb rentals without fear.
1. Never Transfer Money Directly to the Host
Some Airbnb hosts, upon contacting you, will offer “special” deals. They’ll offer to bypass the middleman (which would be Airbnb), if you just pay them directly. In return, they’ll lower the rental rate.
The host may or may not be sincere, but it’s never worth the risk. The reason is simple: the moment you transfer money without using the Airbnb payment page, Airbnb is no longer liable for it. You’ve struck a private deal, even if you happened to find the host on their website.
Should the host turn out to be a scammer, you’re on your own. There’ll be no compensation of any kind.
If you go through Airbnb’s proper channels, your money is held in escrow – it’s not released to the host, until the moment you check-in. If it turns out the host listed a fake address, you’ll get your money back.
(You also get a refund if the place is falsely advertised, unfit to live in, or has some kind of fault, such as a failed heater during the winter. Just report it to Airbnb within the hour).
If the host ever comes up with a reason why you need to transfer money directly (e.g. they claim the system is different in their country or city), then inform Airbnb and cancel the deal. This is a scam, and it’s not allowed under Airbnb’s rules.
2. Check the URL Before Making Payment
Some scammers set up websites that mimic Airbnb, but are really just payment portals into their own bank account. There are some easy ways to spot fake pages.
First, check for the “https://” at the start of the URL shortlink. Airbnb’s shortlink will always read: https://www.airbnb.com. The “https://” means that the site is encrypted, so your personal data is protected. If you don’t see it, you’re on a spoof site.
Also, make sure the URL matches exactly. Watch out for close, but erroneous names like www.airbandb.com.
3. Favour Superhosts, When in Doubt
Superhosts are hosts with good reviews. They must have:
- Never cancelled the booking
- Respond within 24 hours of being contacted, at least 90 per cent of the time
- Have numerous reviews, of which at least 80 per cent must be five star reviews
Superhosts tend to be people who rather seriously rely on Airbnb, such as landlords with vacancies to fill, or people who need to let out part of their home to cover the mortgage. These hosts are less likely to scam you or be problematic, as Airbnb clients are important to them.
When using other hosts, be alert to any negative feedback from users. Also try to avoid hosts with empty profiles, as these may be scam accounts.
4. If the Price Seems Too Good to be True, it Probably is
Let’s be frank: you’re not going to get a centrally located, penthouse stay for S$50 a night. If you see listings like these, there’s a good chance that a scam of some sort is going on.
Stay away. Even if it’s not a direct Airbnb scam, the host may be up to something you really don’t want to get involved in (e.g. you don’t want to turn up there, only to be offered money to conceal a strange package in the apartment for the rest of your stay. Chances are slim you’ll end up with superpowers at the end of your stay).
Use your common sense. When a listing is less than half the price of others in the same area, something is amiss.
5. Be Prepared to Pay for Alternative Accommodations
A common Airbnb scam is the bait-and-switch. This is when you turn up, only to be told that the property isn’t vacant for some ridiculous reason (e.g. there was a “system glitch”.)
Luckily, the host has another property or room they can let out, at the same price.
In reality, the beautiful listing they first put up was a scam – it never existed. They just wanted to lure you you in with the nice picture. The place they’re actually renting might be terrible for its price. They’re counting on the fact that, since you’re already there, you’ll give in and accept the alternative.
Don’t agree to it. Contact Airbnb for your refund, and come prepared to pay for alternative accommodations.
(If it turns out it’s not necessary, then hey, you have more cash for your holiday!)
6. Ignore Airbnb Emails Asking You for Money
If you get emails from Airbnb, asking you to top up cash for any reason, ignore them. Or if they really bug you, contact Airbnb to verify that they’re true. Never click on any links in the email, and never download any attachments.
Some scammers put up fake listings, and then contact you just to get your email address. They’ll then email you directly, instead of communicating via Airbnb (which protects your identities).
These scammers know you can get a refund, and they don’t care about that. What they’re really after is your private email address, so they can send their fake Airbnb “message” and rip you off for cash. Alternatively, they’re hoping you’ll click an attachment or link, which allows them to break into your computer.
Airbnb is Generally Safe and a Good Way to Save, But be Smart About it
As with any form of ecommerce, be it shopping on Carousell or booking flight tickets. there are some scammers who seek to take advantage. Be on your toes, and never be in a rush to pay.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.