It’s always a challenge to find and snag the best deal on Airbnb when you travel, but you also need to watch out for fake listings. Earlier this month, two men were charged with running a $8.5 million scheme on Airbnb and Vrbo with over 10,000 reservations across 10 states. Their bait-and-switch scam conned users with fake properties in major cities, including Los Angeles and Denver.
Airbnb has long battled fake listing scams on their platform, but the San Francisco-based company says they’re cracking down this year. In 2023, Airbnb removed 59,000 fake listings and prevented another 157,000 from joining the platform. But this data still shows that scams are a prominent issue for Airbnb users.  
“In the rare event a guest encounters a listing on the platform that they’re concerned may be fake, they can report the listing to us.” Airbnb says. “Our team is standing by 24/7 to help with things like rebooking assistance and refunds or reimbursements.”
You could always opt for a hotel, but you would lose out on the privacy, space, and affordability Airbnb can provide. Instead, we have some advice from Airbnb for spotting and avoiding fake listings, plus bonus tips for scoring the best properties.
In this photo illustration, a Airbnb App in the IOS App Store on May 04, 2021 in Bargteheide, Germany. (Photo by Katja Knupper/Die Fotowerft/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

1. Stay on the Airbnb Platform

The most common fake listing scam attempts to convince users to contact the fraudulent host off of the Airbnb site and transfer them money directly. The number one safeguard against scams is staying on the Airbnb app. Airbnb safeguards for fraud with identity verification for all guests and hosts, and it will protect your contact information and secure your payment.
“We withhold payment for a reservation from the host until 24 hours after the guest’s check-in time, which gives the guest time on arrival to ensure everything is as it should be or to report any issues to us—and serves as a significant deterrent against scams,” Airbnb says. Stay on the platform for the entire process, from booking to communication to payment, and never pay the host directly outside of the app.

2. Keep Contact Information Off the Site

Never share any contact information with an Airbnb host. If the host starts to ask you for your phone number, email, or any other personal info, this could be a clue that the listing is a sham. It’s also a red flag if the host starts to share their own contact information, which could be an attempt to get you off the Airbnb platform. Thankfully, Airbnb automatically screens for and removes personal info in all communication on the site, including listing descriptions, house rules, and messages between guests and hosts. Just be aware of any messages with contact info that split through.

3. Research the Host Before Booking

It’s always a good idea to spend some time on the host’s profile before booking. Check out the listing’s reviews from previous guests as well as any other properties the host may have. Read the reviews carefully to ensure they align with the property description. Airbnb advises guests to pay “special attention to the amenities, house rules or trip requirements, and the cancellation policy.”
Watch out for any deals that seem too good to be true, like a penthouse with a very low rate, and always compare the price to similar listings. You should also make sure Airbnb has confirmed the host’s identification materials, which you can find on the left side of host profiles. When in doubt, book with a Superhost, users who host frequently, receive high ratings, and have low cancellation rates.
(Getty Images/Yuricazac)

4. Develop Your Own Profile

If you want to nab the best listings, build out your own profile so legitimate hosts can verify you. It’s easy to set up a basic Airbnb guest profile, get verified, then forget about it. But there are actually a number of optional questions and features you can add to your page, including your occupation, languages you speak, your interests, and past trips booked through Airbnb. When you request to book a listing, the host can see this information, which will make you more human and trustworthy. 

5. Be a Gracious Guest and Leave Reviews

This goes without saying, but being a polite guest, communicating promptly with the host, and picking up after yourself will go a long way for your guest reviews. “Guests booking an Airbnb listing are not just entering that home—they’re joining a community,” Airbnb says. “It’s important to be mindful of noise and respectful of their spaces.”
It’s not required, but hosts can leave reviews on your profile for anyone to see. Positive reviews from previous hosts on your page will help you snag your next booking. It’s also a good idea to review the properties you’ve stayed at beyond just a number rating. This may prompt a host to leave you a positive review, but it also helps to be active on the app in general to find listings in the future.
This story was originally published on Sunset.com. You can read it here.