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Beware: This Airbnb scam could ruin your next trip and cost you big money

Travelers today have more choices than ever when it comes to booking a place to stay on vacation. There are hotels, bed and breakfasts and there’s also Airbnb. Click or tap here for our guide on the safest ways to rent from Airbnb.

Airbnb has many advantages over traditional hotel booking services. You can chat directly with the property owner, can set the terms of your rental and many Airbnb properties are more affordable than hotels.

If you decide to rent via Airbnb, you might find yourself in some pretty nice digs — but that’s also where the biggest risk lies. A new scam is spreading across Airbnb. Here’s what you need to watch out for.

AirBait n’ Switch

According to an investigative report from Vice, several large-scale Airbnb scams have been unearthed. Hosts have conned thousands of dollars from innocent renters via deceptive listings, manipulative tactics and false profile information. These scammers trick users into staying at different properties than advertised and profit from the confusion.

Here’s how the scam works: according to senior writer Allie Conti, scammers put up a listing for a decent property at an affordable rate. After the victim books their stay, the scammers contact them at the last minute to say something went wrong (in Conti’s case, the apartment “flooded”) and the victim needs to relocate to another property the scammer owns.

Once the victim arrives, they find the new site is much cheaper and dirtier than the original property. Then, after a single night, the scammer says the victim needs to vacate the area. Meanwhile, the scammer gets to keep the original booking fees.

In a variation of the scam, some hosts will cancel at the last minute, only to offer alternative lodging that’s much more expensive. These scammers bank on their guests being too desperate to look for lodging elsewhere.

A dangerous game

Airbnb has several cancellation policies in effect, but last-minute cancellations can result in victims being unable to claim a full refund. In Conti’s case, she was only able to recover $399 of the nearly $1,200 she paid for her stay.

Though she did receive a partial refund, it only came after she pestered Airbnb support on the phone for several days. The platform also took more than 24 hours to delete the fake listing after Conti reported the scam.

 

Related: Spy camera found in Airbnb rental

 

Unfortunately, Airbnb has been notoriously lax when it comes to moderation and profile vetting. After discovering her host was a scammer, Conti was easily able to uncover several more on the platform. A particular string of sketchy Airbnb hosts even wound up being connected as part of a much larger scam enterprise.

On November 6, one week after Conti’s report broke, Airbnb announced that they would finally begin verifying all 7 million listings on their platform. The project is estimated to take one year, and in the meantime, the company is promising they will “rebook the guest a new listing of equal or greater value” or offer a complete refund if the rental doesn’t appear as advertised. This new refund policy will be effective starting early December.

How can I protect myself if I use Airbnb?

Users will need to be extra cautious when booking with Airbnb. Before you reserve a room, check reviews and make sure there are several of them to be certain a host is legitimate. Always read negative feedback carefully, and take the concerns mentioned into account.

Most importantly, scroll down to the bottom of any review page and read from the oldest to the newest, this way you’ll get a better sense of who you’re dealing with.

Do not take the checkmark next to a host’s name as a sign of trustworthiness. According to Conti’s report, Airbnb doesn’t have strict standards for verifying users. In fact, rank seems to come more from activity and frequency than acclaim.

Between legions of scammers and hidden cameras found in rooms, maybe just booking a hotel is a better idea until Airbnb finishes cleaning up its platform. Click or tap here for 10 websites that will save you money on hotels and airfare.

If you’re still brave enough to stay at an Airbnb, click or tap here to learn how to find hidden cameras in your rental unit.

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