A woman’s house in Philadelphia on Airbnb was a fraudulent listing
- At Christmas, Molly Flaherty returned home to find family on her doorstep. They had booked it on Airbnb.
- But Flaherty said she never listed her home on the vacation rental site.
- Renters reported the issue and received a refund, and the listing was eventually removed.
When Molly Flaherty arrived at her Philadelphia home on Christmas Eve, she was shocked to find four people crowded around her safe on the steps of her front door.
“It was 10 p.m. so I was a little scared at first,” Flaherty told Insider. “Were these people trying to break into my house? Or were they in the wrong house? I even thought there was something wrong with me? Was there gas or smoke or something like that?
The group seemed more confused than anything, she said, so she approached them and introduced herself as the owner.
Nicole Brunet, who stood in front of the safe, told Flaherty that she had rented the property on Airbnb for her parents, who were traveling from California for vacation, Brunet told Insider.
But Flaherty had never listed her home on the vacation rental website.
The list was real, but Flaherty didn’t make it
Brunet said she initially thought she might have the wrong address, and Flaherty assumed the same.
But when Brunet checked the Airbnb listing, Flaherty said the address and photos matched her home.
Flaherty shared screenshots of the listing – which has since been removed from Airbnb – with Insider. She said the footage inside the house was taken before she bought it in 2020.
After Flaherty insisted she never listed her home as a vacation rental on Airbnb, Brunet realized she had been scammed, Brunet said.
This is what Airbnb calls a “account takeover“, when a scammer steals an Airbnb owner’s password.
An Airbnb representative told Insider that Flaherty’s home listing isn’t technically fake, but is an outdated listing that was likely reactivated by a scammer.
Screenshots showed the listing had a 4.7-star rating and over 100 reviews when Brunet booked it.
“I’m a tech-savvy person,” Brunet said. “I read reviews. I looked at the pictures. I walked past the house before I rented it to make sure my parents would be happy there.
“That’s the craziest part of it all,” she continued, adding that the listing “has all the elements of a live account.” The experience, she said, “shattered” her trust in Airbnb.
In a statement sent to Insider, the company said “issues like this are rare, and we were disappointed to learn of this.” He added: “We provided guest support at the time to help sort things out, including a full refund, and deactivated the listing.”
Brunet said when she reported the announcement to Airbnb that evening, the company offered to book another Airbnb for them. But she said there was “no way” she would because “there was no way for me to tell if they were real or fake”.
Instead, Brunet found her parents a room in a nearby hotel which she said she paid for out of pocket. Hours later, Brunet said, she received a full refund from Airbnb. She said she spent over $1,000 for the week-long stay.
Flaherty said it took a week for the listing to be removed from Airbnb
Flaherty also contacted Airbnb over Christmas to warn them that the listing was not legit. She hoped it would be removed quickly, but said it remained active for a week.
Fearing that other people had booked a stay at her place, Flaherty put a note on her front door that read, “If you rented this address through Airbnb, it’s a fraudulent listing. It is not a rental. Airbnb has been contacted several times. “
Flaherty said she was constantly updating the list and checking her calendar for any indication that she had been booked and could expect strangers at her front door. Luckily, she said, it looked like no one else had booked the Airbnb in the near future.
Still, Flaherty said she worries every time she leaves her house about coming home with strangers. “I didn’t feel comfortable thinking that anyone could show up at my house at any time — day or night — thinking they could come in,” she said.
The following week, Flaherty contacted Airbnb several times to have the listing removed, she said.
She said she was told a specialist team was looking into the situation. But as the listing remained active, it turned to other strategies. She asked friends and family to report the inaccurate listing and sent Airbnb a link to a Philadelphia database that listed her as the owner of the property.
“After several days of back and forth, I was practically told that I was considered a third party because I was not the host and I was not a tenant,” he said. she said, adding that she was told that “Airbnb does not arbitrate these disputes.” An Airbnb representative said the company must exercise due diligence when a third party files a complaint.
Flaherty said she never received confirmation that the listing had been taken down. The Airbnb rep said this was likely due to privacy concerns since Flaherty was considered a third-party member.
Flaherty said she was frustrated with how long it took for the listing to be removed from Airbnb’s website. “I think if you get that many comments, that would be something you might want to pay attention to,” she said. “And they really didn’t seem, to me, to have any concerns.”
Flaherty said the incident added stress to a holiday season she hoped would be relaxing. “I had vacations and plans with my friends and family,” she said. “I didn’t enjoy that moment as much because I was worried about it.”