What we’re doing to prevent fake listing scams

Last week, our co-founder Nate Blecharczyk unveiled a range of new and important steps we’re taking at Airbnb to protect our hosts and guests from fraudsters who seek to undermine the trust and integrity of our community through an online scam known as an account takeover. We’re encouraged by our community’s overwhelmingly positive response to these enhanced account security features.

As we head into peak travel season, I want to take this opportunity to provide you with more information about what we’re doing to confront another tactic scammers attempt: posting fake listings.

Let me be clear — fake or misrepresented listings have no place in our community. Our team is working hard to constantly strengthen our defenses on the platform.

For a fake listing scam to be successful, the scammer has to accomplish a number of things that can be routinely avoided — if you know what to look for — such as convincing you to contact them off of the platform, or to wire or transfer them money directly.

Here’s the scam:

  • First, the fraudster needs to bypass our defenses and upload photos of either someone else’s listing or of a listing that does not actually exist.
  • Next, if they manage to slip through, the scammer then has to convince you to communicate with them off of the Airbnb website or app. They do this by giving you their personal contact information in order to lure you into paying them directly and taking off with your money.
  • Finally, they still need to actually convince you to send them money directly, instead of receiving payment as usual through our secure payment system on Airbnb. Scammers may say they need you to wire or transfer them money directly due to a problem with the platform or send you to a fake Airbnb payment site.

As you can probably tell, this scam requires maneuvering and lots of convincing for users to veer off our secure, guided path for booking reservations.

What you need to know:

The good news is, fake listings are rare. All you need to do to protect yourself is to stay on the Airbnb platform throughout the entire process — from booking, to communicating, to payment. When you’re on the Airbnb platform, you can rest assured that your account and personal information are protected and your payment is secure.

Our world-class Trust and Safety team — comprised of our top product, engineering, data science, design, and fraud and security experts — is always innovating ways to prevent fake listings from getting onto the platform in the first place by:

  • Leveraging machine learning technology. To detect fake listings before they ever go live on the platform, our technology evaluates each listing against hundreds of risk signals such as host reputation, template messaging, duplicate photos and other discrepancies — using data learnings from millions of listings. When we predict a high likelihood that a listing is fake, we automatically block it from appearing on Airbnb or, in other cases, delay the listing from going live while we conduct additional reviews.
  • Keeping personal contact info off of the site. In listing descriptions, house rules, and messages between guests and hosts, our system automatically screens out phone numbers, email addresses, and other personal information until a reservation has been booked. We also detect text within listing images to prevent fraudsters from slipping contact details in them.      
  • Safeguarding your payment. We do not release your money to your host until after check-in. This gives both parties time to make sure that everything is as expected. Whether the reservation is two days or two months away, we ensure you have recourse if your accommodation isn’t as advertised. This security measure forces fraudsters to have to convince you to transact off of Airbnb in order to accomplish their scam.

What’s new on Airbnb:

  • Beginning today, we’re adding new educational messaging. Users will now see the following message on every listing description page to help our community avoid fake listings:

We hope that these prompts will remind users to protect their payments by never transferring money or communicating outside of the Airbnb website or app.

  • We have also improved our user flagging capabilities. Users can now flag suspicious listings on their mobile devices. These flags are fed directly into our risk model to reevaluate whether a listing should be automatically removed or manually reviewed.

There’s nothing more important to us than protecting the safety and security of our community and earning your trust. We firmly believe that in order to foster a trusted global community, the more information we can provide and the more tools we can offer for feedback, the better.

We hope you keep these tips in mind while making your plans to travel somewhere extraordinary!

If you have any questions or want to learn more, we recommend checking out these additional resources:

Angeli Jain

Product Lead, Risk