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Is Airbnb Safe? Study Exposes Thousands Of Complaints About Scams And More On Twitter
As the travel industry rebounds, Airbnb is celebrating the return of clients to its online platform— and the numbers speak for themselves.
However, with those good results also comes a number of complaints from guests that report troubles related to their experiences.
In a recent study carried out by Asher Fergusson, a data scientist who runs a travel safety website, it was revealed that 127,183 Airbnb guest complaints were reported this year— most were complained via Twitter. Named ‘Is Airbnb Safe’, this 2021 research is a follow-up to his 2017 study with the same name, which was inspired by his own Airbnb problems in Paris with his wife and baby.
“I conceived the original study method in early 2019. The 2.5-year project was funded by ASIS International (the world’s largest membership organization for security management professionals) and via a grant from John Jay College” Fergusson explained on his website. “Here is a breakdown of the most noteworthy examples of unpleasant (and sometimes dangerous) situations including scams, unsafe conditions, and discrimination.”
According to the study, guest complaints about scams ranked top of the list, with 22.27% of all. His analysis shows that scammers are utilizing home-sharing platforms to target unsuspecting victims.
“Although we can’t quantify the exact amount, these tweets suggest a serious problem. Since Airbnb is a recognizable brand, and the service appears comparable to that of hotels, users are most likely letting their guard down and trusting the app.”
For him, guests who expect quality accommodation and service can be lured into a scam and appear to be left with little recourse, as is documented by tweets complaining about the lack of customer support in these situations.
Multiple listings of the same property is the most common Airbnb scam reported in the set of analyzed Twitter complaints.
“The host offers a nice accommodation for a good price. Unbeknownst to the guest, the property was listed more than once (on Airbnb and potentially other short-term rental platforms), once at a cheaper rate and once at a much higher rate. If the host has a new guest make a booking at the higher rate, they cancel the guest who booked at the lower rate (usually last minute),” the data scientist wrote.
Fergussson also cited that another commonly reported type of fraud that is extremely alarming is where scammers will hack into an Airbnb guests’ account and book multiple stays at potentially fake listings with the victim’s credit card, debit card, PayPal, or another associated payment method.
“The scammer will likely have ownership or connection to the property they have booked so that they are effectively doing a money transfer with the guest’s finances. It is plausible that the hacker is also using this tactic as a money-laundering technique. The Airbnb guest is now locked out of their account and may be missing thousands of dollars.”
False marketing to make the accommodations appear better than they actually are is the second most commonly complained about scam, the study revealed. The data research team found out that this can be achieved through misdirection or staged photos containing amenities that no longer exist.
“Naive guests arrive at a home that is often drastically different from the photos and descriptions posted on the Airbnb platform, e.g. much dirtier than advertised or doesn’t contain said luxury amenities, like a backyard hot tub or more simple essentials such as Wi-Fi or running hot water.”
Airbnb Customer Service
With all these problems analyzed, is Airbnb customer service working to solve all those issues reported?
According to the study, the answer is; not so much.
“The fact that this affected almost 5% of all users who complained via Twitter tells us that Airbnb’s security measures and ability to block suspicious activity could be improved. Often, guests reported that they believe that Airbnb itself is a scam, because of the lack of support offered by the platform in recovering their account, or their funds.”
Discrimination was another issue that was widely reported on Twitter against Airbnb. It was found that 4,851 people complained to Airbnb publicly via Twitter, saying that they were treated poorly based on their race, orientation/gender expression, disability, religion, or for other discriminatory reasons. We’ve broken down the most common types of discriminatory experiences Airbnb guests have had, with real-life examples from guests.
The sections are split up into disability (2,891 complaints), race (1,051 complaints), LGBTQ+ (153 complaints), and other discrimination issues (756 complaints).
The complete ‘Is Airbnb Safe’ study can be accessed here.