Airbnb has been accused of “making it too easy for scam artists” after it was reported that almost a million holidaymakers may have fallen victim to fraud on the website last year.
As many as 1.1 million bookings were also cancelled at the last minute, often leaving holidaymakers on the streets of an unfamiliar city with nowhere to stay, according to a new analysis of the home sharing business.
The report claims that when things go wrong Airbnb’s customer service is appalling, with more than four in five people who had a bad experience saying the company was unhelpful, rude or failed to refund them properly.
The findings come from a study by a travel blog that analysed more than 1,000 “Airbnb horror stories” to establish what happens when things go wrong, The Times reported on Saturday.
Some of the worst cases included a guest being held hostage and sexually assaulted by a host and another finding a rotting corpse in the garden of a property.
The research found that one in five complainants had a host cancel their stay at the last minute or never turn up. More than a quarter reported unsafe conditions, such as a bug infestation, or the accommodation not being as described.
One in six said they were victim of a scam, such as the host demanding extra cash when they arrived.
The study cites Airbnb employees as saying between 3% and 7% of stays turn into a problem. With 80 million trips completed on the website in 2016 that suggests that up to 5.5 million travellers had a bad experience last year.
Asher Fergusson, who runs the Asher & Lyric blog, said: “Airbnb doesn’t require any ID other than an email address and phone number so anyone could be your host.
“They don’t even require real names or profile photos. This means you could end up staying with a criminal, registered sex offender or scam artist.”
Fergusson decided to analyse complaints after being the victim of a scam when he used Airbnb in Paris. When he turned up with his wife and baby, he found the flat looked nothing like the pictures and had intolerable levels of mould.
When he contacted Airbnb saying he could not stay there with his child, it told him that he would have to find alternative accommodation himself.
He found another property on Airbnb near by. After booking it he was emailed by the host saying Airbnb had given the wrong address. He was then taken to a different flat that was nothing like the one in the pictures and had a broken bed.
It took him more than four months to secure a partial refund. He found such scams are common and fraudsters supposedly banned from Airbnb set up new profiles using different names.
Fergusson found the man who conned him in Paris operating under four different aliases in just six weeks.
Airbnb insists that it takes safety seriously and accused Fergusson of making false claims because his blog secures some of its income in commissions from TripAdvisor.
It said: “We’ve had more than 260 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings and negative incidents are extremely rare but when they do arise, we work hard to put things right.
“The stats aren’t statistically significant or accurate and the claims are misrepresented and false. Building a safe and trusted community is our number one priority.”