Is Airbnb safe? Check for these four red flags to avoid scams as a guest on your next stay

·5 min read

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Bianca Polizzi and three of her friends planned a Christmas trip to Bali. It was her third time visiting the Indonesian province, and the previous times had been "super easy" to plan and book accommodations. Polizzi and her friends hoped to stay in Canggu, a seaside surfing village known for its beaches and terraced rice paddies.

When they browsed Airbnbs a week before their departure date, the travelers realized options were slim – and expensive. They ended up booking an Airbnb with no reviews, "but there honestly was nothing else to book," Polizzi told USA TODAY. The day before the trip, her friend who did the booking realized he never received any reply from the host. He contacted Airbnb, which told him that "they had to wait 12 hours before they could reach out to the owners themselves."

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"We decided, 'OK, let's go see if we can find the property,'" said Polizzi, a digital marketer based in Europe. "We had a bad feeling."

When Polizzi and her friends got to the address they were given, they spent 40 minutes searching for the building, asking people if they knew anything, but "there was nothing."

Airbnb told Polizzi's group it could help them find other accommodations, but everything was out of their price range or in a town an hour away, she said.

The company did tell the group it could "possibly" cover the difference, but the travelers needed a place to sleep that night and decided to just pay for other accommodations. To stay within budget, they split up into a beach hut, hostel and one lofted room that were miles apart from one another.

Polizzi at Komodo Island in Indonesia.
Polizzi at Komodo Island in Indonesia.

"We had spent €700 ($836) on a booking that didn't exist," she said. "I was really upset by all of this because I ended up in a really rundown place despite having booked and paid for a comfortable accommodation to share with my friends over the holidays."

She tweeted to Airbnb and an escalation manager helped get the group a refund, and, after following up again, Polizzi received a €1,000 ($1,195) voucher. Polizzi said she feels lucky because she and her boyfriend weren't depending on the refund and other customers with similar experiences are still waiting on refunds.

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An Airbnb spokesperson told USA TODAY that the listing booked by Polizzi was not fake but that the host was no longer active and left his account up.

"Issues like this are rare, and our team supported this guest with a full refund and rebooking assistance to help make things right," Aaron Swor, the spokesperson for Airbnb, said in a statement, adding that the company has deactivated the host and the listing.

What does Airbnb do to prevent scams?

Airbnb has protocols in place to help prevent scams, and for the most part, it can filter out fraudulent users. For instance, the company said, it pays hosts for stays 24 hours after check-in so the host doesn't even see any money until a stay is happening. Since May 2022, Airbnb has also been protecting every booking with Aircover.

Under this warranty, Airbnb also offers a 24-hour safety line if a guest feels unsafe in their rental. With Aircover, Airbnb can find a similar or better home, or give a refund if your complaint meets certain qualifications.

Before these protocols were in place, there were investigations into customers being scammed on the platform. Some common types of scams include bait-and-switch, where you book one place and something leads the host to relocate you to another, less desirable place. Another fraud people say they have encountered is a host making false claims of damage by the guest so the host can charge an extra fee.

"AirCover for guests provides a number of key protections on every stay – which includes a booking protection guarantee, a check-in guarantee and a 'get what you booked' guarantee, among others," Airbnb spokesperson Ben Breit told USA TODAY.

Will Airbnb refund you if you get scammed?

Yes, with Aircover, Airbnb will refund you if you choose not to book a similar rental in these instances:

  • If the host cancels your booking within 30 days of check-in.

  • If you can't check in to the Airbnb and the host can't help.

  • If your listing isn't as advertised (like there are fewer bedrooms than listed), you have three days to report it.

How can you spot scams on Airbnb or other vacation rental platforms?

Though Airbnb and similar platforms, like Vrbo, work to filter out as many scams as much as possible, there are still a few things you can keep in mind to make sure all your bookings are safe, said Blake Walsh, a travel expert at Travel Lens. He said that "being prepared to spot any potential scams or fraudulent behavior can be crucial in keeping your personal information safe."

  • It's a red flag if a host pushes to communicate or pay off the platform. Going through the booking site is the safest method because it's often tracked and secure.

  • Scammers may send fake Airbnb links to your email inbox requesting you to input data to secure a booking or receive a special deal. Don't click the link and instead log onto the platform to check if the offer is legitimate. "If you do choose to follow the link, double-check the URL to ensure it’s leading to the official site," the experts at Travel Lens said.

  • Reverse-image-search the photos used in a listing to ensure the property is real, especially if the "deal seems too good to be true."

  • Always read any reviews, which Travel Lens experts consider the "most valuable asset when booking a rental property." If a new listing has no reviews, check to see if the host has reviews and then make an informed decision on how to move forward.

Have you had an issue with a vacation rental? If so, how was it resolved?

Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter based in Hawaii. You can reach her at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Airbnb scams: Here's how to keep yourself safe as a guest