Officials warn of nationwide Airbnb Scam

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COLUMBIA - The Better Business Bureau is warning travelers of rental scams including vacation rentals in its new study published December 11th. According to the study, more than five million people nationwide lost money to rental scams and the victims are usually between 21 and 29 years old. 

Mason Taylor, an MU student falls into that category. Mason and his family were left with no place to sleep in Nashville when MU played Vanderbilt earlier this year.

"You know Nashville, it's a tourist attraction," he said. "You can't find a place on the spot there."

Taylor said he and his family booked the Airbnb in July, months in advance. They called Airbnb three hours outside of Nashville to ask for the house combination and were told the house was not available. It had been double booked. 

"It's just wrong," he said. "Even when we tried to contact them and say hey you need to find us a place, all they'll say is you know their generic saying like we had a leak in our system."

Taylor said Airbnb recommended his family book with other Airbnb's three times more expensive than the price of the original house. 

"They just kind of left us hanging," he said. 

Taylor attempted to book another last minute Airbnb. 

"They took our credit card information, my ID and then said it's already booked after they took our information," he said. 

Taylor and his family ended up booking a hotel 20 miles away from downtown for almost double the cost of the original Airbnb.

Airbnb paid half of the cost for the hotel and for one Uber, but Taylor said his family was still out money.

David Thomas has run an Airbnb in Columbia for three years and said he can see how problems like Mason's could happen.

He said the city of Columbia inspected his Airbnb to make sure it was safe and certified. Airbnb, however does not check to make sure all homes have been inspected.

"They don't require any of the documentation," he said. "They don't require that you're insured."

Thomas said Airbnb does not have a way to verify if homes are the same as the photos on hosts' profiles. 

"They don't go actually verify any of the stuff," he said. "They look at the communication that comes through the reviews."

Thomas said these customer reviews are supposed to act as incentives for hosts to keep their profiles up to date. He said he gets very detailed reviews from people who stayed in his home.

"Everybody says it's pretty much the way they are told to expect and that isn't the case everywhere as I understand," he said. 

The Regional Director of the Better Business Bureau serving mid-Missouri is Michelle Gleba.  She said the majority of complaints the BBB receives about Airbnb are about scammers who will post photos of a home that they either don't own or that are misleading. Once the consumer expresses interest in the property they are asked to pay a security deposit. After the consumer pays the deposit the scammer makes off with the money and the consumer ends up not having a place to stay. 

To avoid these scams, Gleba has three tips for consumers. 

She said to use secure websites. 

"Scammers today put up websites that look exactly like legitimate websites," she said. "You need to look at the URL and make sure it says https and look for that lock symbol."

Gleba also said to stay on the platform. Many times scammers will attempt to contact consumers privately through email or text.

"We strongly recommend staying on the platform, communicating with them only on that site, and paying only through that site," she said. 

Gleba said she also recommends consumers vet Airbnb by looking at the site's recommendations and reviews and to check photos.

"If there is a photo, do a reverse image search and see what pops up," she said. 

A recent Vice article uncovered a nationwide scam where a host claimed to have plumbing issues and instead steered travelers to dumpy units for the same price. 

In response to the article Airbnb announced it will verify all 7 million listings on its platforms this coming year.

Airbnb's CEO Brian Chesky turned to Twitter to reassure travelers. 

"Starting on 12/15/19, if a guest checks into a listing and it doesn't meet our accuracy standards, we will rebook them into a listing that is just as nice - and if we can't they will get 100% of their money back," he wrote. 

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