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Airbnb conducts massive listing review after a widespread scam

November 14, 2019

November 14, 2019

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Airbnb conducts massive listing review after a widespread scam

After Vice magazine exposed an extensive Airbnb scam, the platform has announced it will now take extra steps to make sure all seven million of its listings are verified. 

The scam involved fake hosts who would trick Airbnb users out of thousands of dollars across 94 properties in eight different US cities. The Vice reporter Allie Conti who exposed the scam, went on to say that Airbnb’s rules were poorly written and that they made it easy for scammers to exploit users.  

After Vice magazine exposed an extensive Airbnb scam, the platform has announced it will now take extra steps to make sure all seven million of its listings are verified. 

The scam involved fake hosts who would trick Airbnb users out of thousands of dollars across 94 properties in eight different US cities. The Vice reporter Allie Conti who exposed the scam, went on to say that Airbnb’s rules were poorly written and that they made it easy for scammers to exploit users.  

Here’s how the scam worked: 

Minutes before the guest would check-in, they would receive a call from the host saying there had been a plumbing emergency at the property and that, unfortunately, it was no longer possible for the guest to stay there. The host would offer for them to stay at another property for the night until the issue got fixed – only to kick them out the next day to “make room for another guest”. If the guest tried to contact the host again, no dice. The contact details provided were fake, and as the guests had technically stayed at the Airbnb for one night, they couldn’t get a full refund from Airbnb. 

At closer inspection, the scam-host’s profile had been copied across several listings, stock images had been used for the profile photo, and the reviews were suspicious – often coming from other phony looking accounts in the same area. A rather sophisticated operation, they had found a loophole in the platform’s patchy rules and a way to manipulate them to exploit users. 

In response to the Vice report, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky went immediately into damage-control mode. He said that Airbnb would verify every property to ensure user trust and that, by the end of 2020, Airbnb would be 100% verified. 

“We are making the most significant steps in designing trust on our platform since our original design in 2008,” Chesky said in an email to employees in the beginning of November this year. “We believe that trust on the internet begins with verifying the accuracy of the information on internet platforms, and we believe that this is an important step for our industry.”

The verification process, according to Chesky, will ensure that all seven million homes listed on Airbnb are accurately advertised. A review of the refund policy will further ensure the company will “rebook the guest into a new listing of equal or greater value” or give a full refund if the accuracy standards aren’t met. 

The verification process is an extension of a holistic review of Airbnb’s operations that commenced last year and included several measures to protect all users of the platform. Not only is the platform trying to deal with scammers, they’re also reviewing company policies to protect hosts from illicit guests that are only looking for a place to throw unauthorised parties. 

Parties are generally not allowed on Airbnb, but that doesn’t stop people from having them. The platform will do manual reviews of all reservations that suggest a guest may throw a party. Red flags include bookings coming from people who live in the same city as the property.  

“This will help identify suspicious reservations and stop unauthorized parties before they start,” Chesky said.

This overhaul follows the recent mass shooting in a California Airbnb rental, which has also prompted the launch of a 24/7 rapid response phone line that guests can call in an emergency. 

A pioneer in the peer-to-peer sharing economy, Airbnb has always operated on an honesty system where it trusted hosts and guests to do the right thing. But the recent commercialisation of the sharing economy is now changing things for both Airbnb, aand other sharing companies who have also reviewed their accountability. Ride-sharing apps, for example, have implemented intensive security measures to improve user safety. 

With mass-usage, a trust-based business model becomes riskier. Airbnb’s review reflects the sharing economy’s shift from the niche to the mainstream.


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