Reghan Winkler: Tips for Avoiding Airbnb Scams

About half an hour south of bustling Virginia Beach is Sandbridge, a much quieter and more laid-back beach. It is dotted with vacation rental homes capable of accommodating larger families and groups.

Last year, Missy Bersing from St. Louis, Missouri, booked a week-long family getaway to a Sandbridge vacation home she found on Airbnb. She and a representative of the home owner thoroughly explained the amenities and features of the rental.

Everything seemed perfect for the group of 16 family members and the price was surprisingly low, so she put down a big deposit through Airbnb.

The group did the 15 hour hike to Sandbridge. A cleaning crew was working when they arrived so they came back a few hours later but the door code they were given didn’t work.

Bersing called and messaged the host but got no response.

A sign on the house said Sandbridge Realty was also a rental agent for the house, so she called them. They were very friendly but assured him that the house was not rented by Airbnb.

Desperate to find accommodation for her group, she contacted Airbnb and local hotels, but nothing was available to accommodate 16 people. They returned to St. Louis, not understanding that Airbnb was allowing someone to book a property they didn’t own.

Contacted by a Virginia Beach television station, Airbnb said it was disappointed to learn of the family’s trip and would refund the lost money. The host has also been removed from the platform.

According to Airbnb, such cases are rare. By registering to host on Airbnb, hosts agree that they will not use anyone’s property without their permission. Airbnb hosts don’t receive payments for trips until 24 hours after their guest has successfully checked in, so the host in the situation hasn’t benefited or been paid for that booking.

According to FBI data, the number of rental scams jumped 70% in 2021. Travelers desperate to escape after post-pandemic shutdowns have become easy prey.

I would like to say that Airbnb is quite a safe and reliable platform, but how do you protect yourself from characters who try to game the system in order to steal your money?

Here are some things to consider:

• An almost universal sign of a scam is an exceptionally low price. The demand for summer rentals is higher than ever, so prices are also very high. As the old saying goes, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

• If a host tries to charge you directly via PayPal, bank transfers or even Bitcoin, it’s a scam. Always pay through the Airbnb platform. Airbnb will not help you with any issues if you pay outside of the platform.

• Pay particular attention to photos. If the photos are of poor quality, it may mean that they were stolen from another site. Also be wary if property photos depict generic looking buildings or appear to have been rendered by artists. Does the description say four bedrooms, but there are only two photos? Be very careful.

• When dealing with a host, it is best to communicate through the platform’s messaging system. It’s safer, and Airbnb will have a case to review if there’s a problem.

• Trust your instincts. If you have a funny feeling about the place or the host, it is better not to book. If you’ve already booked, contact Airbnb to request a cancellation.

• If you’ve been scammed or think you’ve found one, contact Airbnb directly. Airbnb recommends communicating through its website or app. He is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist you.

Reghan Winkler is Executive Director of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB is available on the Internet at

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