Huge Airbnb scam leads to promise to vet every host

Ever stay in an listing that lacked a trash bin? A kitchen light? Running water? But one which had ample broken beer bottles littering the balcony, trash shoved into the holes in a milk crate, and filthy sheets on a bed that hadn’t been made?

That was my Airbnb misery. The details of yours, if you have one, are undoubtedly different. Maybe you showed up on the doorstep of your destination after driving four hours only to be told by baffled homeowners that you must have the wrong address. Maybe you discovered the beady eye of a hidden webcam trained on your bed.

Or maybe you’ve been told, at the last minute, that there was a plumbing emergency and that you’d be switched to a place that was 3x as large – wow, an upgrade – only to find that it was a cobwebby dump you could only get to by squeezing around trash bins as rats dashed past?

Fake listing scam

That, in fact, was the experience of one traveller who told their story to a Motherboard Vice reporter who uncovered a nationwide scam in which shady real estate rental companies are putting up lovely, and fake, listings, publishing them on Airbnb under the profiles of multiple fictional hosts, and then, at the last minute, switching we-have-no-other-choice guests to shabby rat-traps.

That’s what happened to writer Allie Conti, who went on to talk to multiple others who’ve banged their head against Airbnb trying to get refunds – refunds that apparently were issued in full to only the most persistent (namely, a lawyer who “loves to argue,” she told Vice), while others have only received partial refunds, or none at all.

The specific details of Airbnb nightmares aside, those of us who’ve fallen for a crappy or nonexistent listing may well wonder how in the world a company that’s been around for 11 years – one that’s due to go public and is estimated to be worth $35 billion – could fail to have the technologies and processes in place to weed out the fraudsters who find it so easy to take advantage of the platform.

Well, it hasn’t had those abilities. Nor has it apparently prioritized putting them into place. But now, it’s promising to change all that… or, at least, to give people 100% refunds if Airbnb can’t put them into another accommodation that’s “just as nice.”

Promises

A week after Vice published its hair-curling findings, Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky published a series of Tweets in which he said that the platform plans to verify every one of its listings and every one of its hosts:

Chesky said that starting next month – on 15 December – the new Airbnb Guest Guarantee will ensure that guests who stay in listings that don’t meet Airbnb’s “accuracy standards” will either be rebooked into someplace that’s “just as nice” or, failing that, they’ll get a 100% refund.

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