BAM Key Details:
- There are seven Airbnb scams to watch out for to protect yourself and your vacation.
- ChatGPT has given scammers an easy way to create convincing fake reviews.
Ask ChatGPT for a list of Airbnb scams, and it will generate a detailed list in a matter of seconds. Ask it to create a list of 10 or more positive reviews for a two-bedroom rental with specific amenities, and it’ll crank those out, too.
And to its credit, those reviews are actually more convincing than a lot of obviously bot-generated views we’ve come across. These are the kind of reviews hosts dream about and potential guests swoon over. Well done, ChatGPT.
Unfortunately, while customers can use ChatGPT to help them write a positive review, scammers can do the same thing to improve the overall rating for a rental property.
That’s just one tool a scammer could add to their arsenal to cheat vacationers out of their money. And there are at least seven widely-used scams your clients and community should watch out for. And you can help with that.
First, let’s look at seven well-known scams and how to avoid them.
#1—Bait & switch
The bait and switch is a popular go-to for scammers on short-term rental platforms, including Airbnb. At the last minute—and often on the guest’s arrival—the host switches the address or the unit, using any one of the following excuses:
- The previous renter of the reserved unit trashed the place
- The reserved unit has a major issue with the plumbing, air conditioner, heating, etc.
- The reserved unit was double-booked (and the other renters showed up first)
- The host sent the wrong address and the actual rental is miles away
When the renter shows up at the actual rental, they find it very different from what was advertised and noticeably inferior. The actual property could have fewer bedrooms or bathrooms (or both), old and smelly furniture, dollar store pots and pans, stained carpets or cheap linoleum flooring throughout, dim lighting (or none at all), backed-up plumbing, and even bedbugs.
This is not the kind of place you would rent on purpose—and certainly not a place you would invite a friend or family member to stay in.
How to protect yourself:
- Do not cancel the reservation yourself (which would trigger payment to the host)
- Do contact Airbnb within 24 hours to report the bait & switch, request a refund, and ask for help (if you need it) with finding a new place to spend the night
#2—Fake or doctored photos
Scammers might use doctored or even fake property images to make the rental look more appealing than it actually is.
How to protect yourself:
- Do a reverse image search to see if those images are elsewhere online and linked to different locations/addresses
- Do a Google Map search of the address to see if satellite imagery matches the photos shared by the host (granted, satellite images can be outdated).
- Check reviews to see if any other customers pointed out that the actual property was noticeably different from the photos.
Scammers might even create fake property listings on Airbnb (and other short-term rental platforms) using stolen/copied images and invented descriptions to entice users into paying for accommodations that don’t actually exist.
How to protect yourself:
- Look up the address on Google Maps to see if the satellite imagery matches the image used in the Airbnb listing.
- See if you can find a phone number for that address and call it up to verify that the property is actually a rental—and not an unsuspecting homeowner’s place of residence.
The plus side with that second tip is that, if you reach a homeowner who had no idea their address was listed on Airbnb as a short-term rental, they can also notify Airbnb of the scam and have their address removed.
It’s always a red flag when the host pressures you to pay them directly, outside the Airbnb platform, or to communicate via text message or any means other than Airbnb messaging.
Not only is payment outside the platform against Airbnb policy, but any money you send directly to the host cannot be refunded by Airbnb. And without a record of your host-renter communications on Airbnb, the company cannot verify the information provided by the host was incorrect.
Also, if the actual reservation was made outside the platform, you have no way to report the scam to Airbnb, much less get a refund.
How to protect yourself:
- Just say no to making payments outside the Airbnb platform
- Keep important communications on the Airbnb platform, too.
- If you discuss the property over the phone, send a message on the Airbnb platform afterward to get confirmation of their answers and to create a copy of the important points covered in your phone conversation.
#5—Fake or extorted positive reviews
As mentioned earlier, it’s not hard to create fake customer reviews. AI tools like ChatGPT make this even easier. Type in a prompt like “‘Write 10 positive reviews for a two-bedroom rental smart home with a rooftop garden, swimming pool, and chef’s kitchen,” and here are some of the reviews ChatGPT can generate in a matter of seconds:
- “This rental exceeded all our expectations! The smart home technology made everything so easy, and the rooftop garden was the perfect place to relax and enjoy the beautiful views. We couldn’t have asked for a better stay!”
- “The swimming pool was an absolute dream! It was the perfect temperature and so clean. The chef’s kitchen also made cooking meals a breeze, and we loved being able to enjoy them outside on the rooftop patio.”
- “We felt like royalty staying in this beautiful rental. The attention to detail was impeccable, and everything was so clean and well-maintained. The rooftop garden was a true oasis, and the swimming pool was the cherry on top.”
- “If you’re looking for the ultimate vacation rental, this is it! The smart home technology made everything so easy, and the rooftop garden and swimming pool were the perfect places to unwind and relax.”
- “We had an amazing time staying in this rental. The chef’s kitchen was perfect for cooking up delicious meals, and the rooftop garden was the perfect place to enjoy them. And let’s not forget the amazing swimming pool – it was the highlight of our stay!”
These actually sound more convincing than some of the fake reviews you can easily find on shopping sites like Amazon and Walmart.com. Keep that in mind and do some digging in the review section. The negative (and honest) reviews might be buried deep.
Another possibility is that past customers were extorted into leaving positive reviews to avoid extra charges threatened by the host for invented “damages” or “misuse” of the property.
So, on top of looking through reviews, see if the host is willing to have a conversation with you on the phone, so you can ask them some questions about the property.
And, as with any red flags you might pick up in your communications with the host, go with your gut if it’s telling you something is off.
Scammers on Airbnb may send you an email or message that appears to be from Airbnb, with links that take you somewhere other than the Airbnb payment platform.
If they’re asking you to provide personal information like your login credentials, passport details, or credit card numbers on any site other than Airbnb—or via phone call or text message—they can then use that info to gain access to your account, rob you blind, and steal your identity.
This is exactly why Airbnb policy does not allow rental hosts to receive payment outside their platform. Renters who buy the scammer’s rationale for going outside the usual channels have no recourse when they realize they’ve been scammed and are out several hundred dollars.
The scammer can then lock you out of your Airbnb account so you can’t use it to report the scam to Airbnb, nor can you stop Airbnb from paying the host (if payment was arranged through the platform).
How to protect yourself:
- Do not click on any link in an email from an Airbnb host without first verifying that it takes you to the Airbnb website and not a fraudulently branded payment portal.
- If the host contacts you by phone, text message, or other non-Airbnb platforms to request immediate payment to make your reservation, tell them you want to pay through the Airbnb payment platform instead. Do not allow any host to pressure you into paying them in any other way. Any refusal to use the Airbnb platform is a huge red flag.
If the host argues that Airbnb takes too much out of their rental fee and makes it hard for them to make ends meet with the oversaturated rental market, remember that your safety and the security of your payment information are more important than their ROI.
#7—False damage claims or hidden charges
Some hosts will threaten a renter with additional charges for made-up “damages” or “misuse of the property,” adding them to the total rental fee unless the renter agrees to meet certain conditions:
- Leave a positive review for them on Airbnb
- Clean up the rental (vacuum, launder the sheets, make the beds for the next guest, etc.)
Other scammers might present their renters with hidden charges upon their arrival, increasing the total amount owed and explaining the additional charges as typical of Airbnb rentals and something they should have expected, including—
- Cleaning or “service” fees
- Charges for any food or drinks included in the unit, Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, etc.
- Charges for booking the rental within a certain window of their arrival time
Any charges not disclosed at the time the reservation was made are grounds for notifying Airbnb within the first 24 hours of your scheduled arrival time. Don’t assume that any hidden charge is something you “should have expected” or that “every Airbnb host charges.”
How to protect yourself (and your clients) from scammers on the Airbnb platform
Let’s review all the things you and your clients can do to protect themselves from an Airbnb scam:
- Always book your Airbnb rental through the official platform
- Carefully inspect the Airbnb listing and verify the address and listing images match up,
- Read reviews from previous renters—and use an AI-detection tool like GPTZero or Originality.ai to see if any of the reviews are (likely to be) AI-generated.
- Communicate with the host before booking the rental unit
- If it sounds too good to be true or if you get a dodgy vibe from the listing or its host, trust your gut and find another option.
- Don’t click on any links in emails or text messages without first verifying that it leads you to Airbnb’s secure platform.
- Don’t allow any host to pressure you into paying or communicating outside the Airbnb platform.
- Treat any hidden/surprise charges as suspect and alert Airbnb as soon as you learn about them.
- Ensure that the communications portal on Airbnb contains a complete record of all the important details discussed about the listing and your reservation.
- Always report a bait and switch—or anything sketchy—to Airbnb.
- Do not cancel your Airbnb reservation yourself; contact Airbnb within 24 hours of your arrival if the property doesn’t match the listing description.
Aside from all these warnings and recommendations, don’t forget to reward Airbnb hosts who went above and beyond to ensure you had a good experience with your reservation. Leave a positive review (written by yourself) and recommend them to friends, family, and, when appropriate, your social media following.
Top takeaways for real estate agents
If you work with any property owners/investors using Airbnb to earn rental income, make sure they’re aware of these scams, too, so they can look at their own listing through the lens of someone on the lookout for red flags. Encourage them to set up safeguards to protect their rental customers and ensure a good experience for them.
If you work with enough short-term rental property owners, you might even provide a list of things they can do to ensure their renters have every (legitimate) reason to leave a 5-star review and to recommend their listing to friends and family.
Help them stand out, so they can raise the bar and make it harder for scammers to win.