Review of Airbnb horror stories finds ‘multiple dangerous loopholes and scams’

Travel blogger Asher Fergusson, pictured above, says he had to climb six flights of stairs carrying luggage and baby gear only to find out that his Airbnb Paris rental was a scam. Photo courtesy of Asher Fergusson

An analysis of more than 1,000 negative Airbnb reviews claims the home-sharing service “has multiple dangerous loopholes and scams that are going unchecked.”

The alleged schemes include such things as cancelling bookings at the last minute and demanding that guests pay in cash, advertising non-existent properties, and creating several listings for the same location at different prices and then cancelling on guests who booked at lower prices, according to travel blogger Asher Fergusson.

The root of the problem, Fergusson believes, lies in a number of security flaws Airbnb isn’t doing enough to address.

For example, Airbnb doesn’t require that hosts provide government ID in all cases and doesn’t seem to be able to recognize when different property listings use the same photo.

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Airbnb has taken issue with the study and its conclusions, saying in a statement provided to Global News that “the stats cited aren’t statistically significant, nor are they accurate, and the claims are misrepresented and flat-out false.”

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While Fergusson’s analysis is based on 1,021 reviews, the company said that “there have been more than 260 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date.”

“Building a safe and trusted community is our number one priority and the most important thing we do,” Airbnb said.

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Hosts don’t have to provide government ID

Still, Fergusson is correct in pointing out that creating a host account on the platform doesn’t require government ID, unless the host requires an ID from guests. This, he contends, means the company can only run a background checks if users provide their real names.

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On its website Airbnb says it currently conducts background checks of U.S.-based hosts “where we have at least an accurate first and last name plus date of birth.”

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The company also said it screens all hosts globally against regulatory, terrorist, and sanctions watch lists and is working with governments around the world to further strengthen its background check system.

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Fake and duplicate listings

When it comes to spotting fake and duplicate listings, Airbnb said it uses machine learning and predictive analytics in real time to flag and then stop suspicious activity. It also said it has processes in place to prevent banned users from creating new accounts.

“Negative incidents are extremely rare but when they do arise, we work hard to make things right,” Airbnb said in the statement.

In his report, however, Fergusson claims he was able to find “multiple examples of fake listings in Paris, London and New York in under 10 minutes.”

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The study includes two photos and a video pinpointing what look like Airbnb listings with the same photo and description but different prices.

When creating several listings for the same property, hosts appear to use addresses that are geographically close to the original location for duplicate posts, Fergusson told Global News. When guests show up at the wrong address, they get a call from the host, who provides the correct address, usually a few steps away.

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Fergusson himself claims to have been the victim of this scam. Indeed, the inspiration for the study, he told Global News, was his own personal horror story with Airbnb a few months ago.

Fergusson was travelling with his wife and then 10-month old son in September when two rogue Airbnb hosts in Paris allegedly left the family “on the street in Europe frightened, vulnerable and with nowhere to go.”

Asher Fergusson and his son Kingsley in Paris, where he says his family experienced two Airbnb horror stories in a week in September 2017. Photo by: Lyric Fergusson

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When the Fergussons checked into the apartment they had originally reserved, they say they found mold growing on walls, curtains and shutters, which prompted them to immediately cancel the booking.

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When they gave Airbnb a second chance with another last-minute booking, Fergusson says they climbed six flights of stairs only to allegedly receive a call from their host telling them that the apartment was actually next door. After dragging luggage and baby gear up another flight of stairs, he says they were told they would have to pay in cash due to payment-processing problems with the platform.

Airbnb receipts viewed by Global News show that Fergusson immediately received a full refund for the second booking. Airbnb, however, didn’t offer a full refund for the second stay until December, after Fergusson had published his report.

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Customer service mentioned as an additional headache

Customer service itself is a major issue when things go wrong at Airbnb, according to the study. Fergusson claims that over 80 per cent of the negative reviews he sifted through mentioned unhelpful customer service as a problem.

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Among the most common guest complaints, Fergusson claims, are a lack of support during emergencies, unreachable or unresponsive officials and unfairly denied refunds.

Airbnb said its customer service is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in 11 different languages, to help guests with issues like rebooking assistance, as well as refunds, reimbursements, and insurance programs.

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But when Fergusson called Airbnb for help after he says he discovered mold in his first rental, he claims a company representative simply told him to go find another place to stay — no easy feat in an overbooked city like Paris and with an infant in tow.

If the company had been more proactive, Fergusson would probably have never started his quest to spot Airbnb scams, the travel blogger wrote on his site.

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