Airbnb Extortion: The Dark Side of Positive Reviews (Why Taking Videos Can Save You Hundreds)

There are all kinds of scams on Airbnb. Properties may be advertised that aren’t really there. People may advertise and rent out places they do not own or rent.

And the number of fees – Airbnb’s own fees, cleaning fees, and other items that owners come up with – have made Airbnb rentals less attractive.

But another risk is that you rent a property, complete your stay and all is fine, and the owner tries to extort you for more money after your stay. Invariably the demand comes after you’ve left your positive review (or the period to review a property passes).

Here’s the story of one Airbnb guest that received a demand for $500 for “extra cleaning” after their stay, claiming they’d smoked in the home even though they are “not smokers and never have been smokers.”

The owner “placed cigarette butts in a coffee cup and sent the pictures to Air B&B” and claimed the guests stained the unit’s mattress. (The guests claim that the sheets in the photos are not even the same color as the sheets on the bed during their stay.)

Air B&B has backed the host and their staged photos. I will not be paying $500 for something I did NOT and would NOT do. Has anyone delt with this kinda thing before or have any advice??

Unfortunately, I had already left a positive review after checking out, and before receiving an email for reimbursement over 24 hours later. I have posted a review on my profile. But was unable to figure out how to undo my positive post

Several readers chimed in on their own similar experiences with Airbnb prperty owners, for instance:

  • “host claimed we’d smoked weed in the property and asked for extra money for deep cleaning only minutes after we left a positive review.”

  • Another tried “to extort additional money/threats of escalation due to surface damage on counters, 6 weeks after we rented and left” but they had taken video of the unit, including the counters, and that ended the discussion.

Photos and videos of rental cars, before and after rental, are a good idea. Usually things go smoothly. That’s especially true with the major rental companies at on-airport locations. But when they don’t the backup is useful.

I’ve never considered taking photos of my hotel room to show that I haven’t caused any damage. I’ve never considered taking photos of my airplane seat. Rental cars are usually the scammiest part of travel, but it seems like taking video of your Airbnb before you check out is a good idea.

Videos aren’t fool proof. You may not get the spot you need. Time and date stamps can be modified, indeed deep fakes can be made. But they’ll create enough of a presumption or rebuttal to put you in a stronger position if the unit owner decides to go after you. Their evidence probably isn’t better than yours!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Same here: always pictures of rental car. I also end up taking photos/videos of hotel rooms for private friends messages. I’ll take pictures of my airline food and lack of knee space; but, never my seat cushion nor back nor headrest. Too many tabloid stories of scammy/criminal AirBnB: but, I as I usually make a video of my hotel resort room/suite for private friends messages, I’d eventually be covered this way in an AirBnB. Thanks for the helpful tip!

  2. I dunno, their evidence probably *is* better than yours. They just have to stage one specific thing well; you have to prove an unknowable range of possible negatives.

  3. What’s up with the super-creepy AI-generated images that are part of the RSS feed but not the blog?

  4. I don’t stay at Airbnb’s often but I usually wait until the last possible day or after I’ve been reviewed to write a review, largely for this reason. Not sure what the statute of limitations are but hope that diminishes the possibility of something like that. 6 weeks after is pretty ridiculous. Good call on video/photos, I hadn’t been doing that — something is better then nothing. Thanks for helping publicize this.

  5. There’s not much threat here. As someone that used to be an AirBNB host, they won’t get involved. It was frustrating because we had little leverage when someone stayed and did damage or “accidentally” took something. They steal towels? Eat the cost. Leave a phone cord as a convenience for a guest? It will be gone in 2 weeks. Eventually, you learn to make things nice enough that nobody complains, but not nice enough to have anything grow legs and walk away. Then you have the owner’s closet full of the good linens (pans/electronics) that you keep for yourself.

    That being said, if you feel like you have to take pictures of everything as a CYA, maybe avoid the stress and don’t stay at an AirBNB.

  6. Airbnb is such a hot mess right now, both for renters and owners. I won’t use it ever again until there are real protections on both sides. Heck, I probably just won’t use it period. I’m done with them.

  7. As others have pointed out, the best solution is just avoid Airbnb, which is just an acronym for, “Always In Retrospect, Buyer Need Beware”. You could also say the BNB stands for, bye next business, better not’ve bought, best naughty business.

  8. Over many years, every experience I have had in several countries with Airbnb has been perfect. I have two more trips coming up and will use three Airbnb locations. Other than as a customer, I have no relationship with Airbnb.

  9. Damn skippy I am not sending out a claim (if I can help it) until after people who have damaged my house have left their review. If I send it before, they will come up with all sorts of mythical things to put in their review and give me one star. I get a couple of one star reviews and Airbnb kicks me off the platform. Doesn’t matter if I was right and had all the evidence, the review still stands and my business still suffers.
    As for the one who claimed that somebody waited six weeks to put in a claim, that didn’t happen (or at least Airbnb didn’t support/enforce it). Airbnb would laugh their asses off if I tried to get them to enforce a claim after 6 weeks. In most cases, they give us 72 hours to put in a claim, sometimes even less if there is another Airbnb booking sooner than that.
    We have been in this business for 14 years with an average of about 1200 bookings per year. We have made damage claims maybe 6 times a year, so maybe 100 claims out of about 17,000 bookings. We have had 4 guests who actually agreed that they had damaged the property and roughly 10 who did not respond at all. The other 85% claimed that they had done nothing wrong.

  10. Funny comments because thousands of hosts say the same thing from the opposite direction. Cases where the guest is absolutely liable but AirBnB always supports the guest not the host.

  11. I have learned to take videos with non-company-owned rental car locations and Turo rentals, too. Turo bros change your car reservation, suddenly claim cancellation privileges (when they get a higher offer) and then claim damages when you return the car. Small rental car franchisees (looking at you, Budget St. Bart’s) make up damages and charge you fraudulently to “fix” the supposed damages, with video they have stashed already, so you need your own competing evidence— a regular racket. Sad to see Air BNB hosts resorting to this nonsense too. It’ll kill the whole concept.

  12. Why use any third party platform at all?

    When I first started STRs 20 years ago, people found my property from the local site. Then Craigslist came along. Then people started referring.

    Since I live in the college town I graduated, I joined alumni associations.

    I deleted ABB earlier this year. I was fed up with scam artists. I was fed up with ABB owing me money for various reasons. They blocked our house for two weeks with no reason cited. We missed renting one of the biggest events because of that.

    We never had a serious issue with someone who rented direct. It was always the third-party rentals that were the nightmares.

  13. We had exactly this experience in an expensive Airbnb stay in London. We had lots of problems with the unit, including the owners threatening us, and we worked with Airbnb to get moved into a hotel. The owner then made false claims against us of thousands of dollars of damages after we left. Fortunately we took pictures of everything when we arrived and after we left so it was obvious to Airbnb that the owners staged faked damage.

  14. I have stayed at AirBNB’s in Rome, Tokyo, London, The Netherlands and all over the US. Have had a few disappointments where the actual property was a little “less” than what I expected based on the information at booking. But I have never, ever experienced any of the negatives that I so often read about on this blog. I might have been lucky. Or @Gary has an axe to grind, just like he does not like AA.

  15. Query whether, with conclusive evidence of faked damage in hand, an Abnb guest would have any legal cause of action against the host for the false claim … ? Maybe for defamation, especially if a negative guest review were left by the host as to the innocent guest ? I’m trying to think what disincentive, besides Abnb maybe kicking the host off the platform, there would be to take the wind out of such scammers’ sails.

  16. I got hit with an extra $25 charge for some towels that I supposedly ruined. But, Airbnb is still worth it. It would even still be worth it with this fake $500 charge.

    I’ve spent the majority of the last 12 months moving around. And I stayed mostly in Airbnbs because of cost. I’m in one right now, on holiday with my dad. I paid $1700 for 8 nights, and if we wanted this amount of space in a hotel room, I would have had to pay 2 to 3 times as much. I looked extensively because I prefer hotels.

    I can get hit with a bunch of fraudulent fees and still come out ahead. It’s annoying, and I would hate it, but from a strictly dollars perspective it makes sense.

    However, I do make sure to be extra diligent about reviewing airbnbs. I stay up to speed on the latest scams, like this one. And I don’t write a review until the host has written one for me.

  17. On a recent AirBnB rental, the host agency kept hounding me for a positive review. Before I even left the property, text messages were buzzing my phone. Then e-mails, then a phone message with an offer for a discount on their chain of properties on future rentals if I left a POSITIVE review.
    I was spooked by the onslaught. Took 20+ photos as I left the property. Also, was giving a set of instructions prior to departure:
    – load the dishwasher, yet the property had no dishwasher
    – put out the trash, yet the dumpster was overflowing with garbage
    – put all towels in the bathtubs, yet the property had only a shower stall
    – sweep the floor, yet no broom
    – etc, etc, etc

    I now have developed a folder per trip with photos of rental cars, rooms, and all aspects of airline travel to cover my arse (British vernacular).

  18. This is one of many reasons why I avoid AirBnb like the plague. I’ve spent thousands of nights in hotels over the better part of 4 decades and never once been hit with a bogus fee after checkout. Beware the high cost of the low price and zero recourse from AirBnb.

    (For sure there are a few times I found incorrect parking charges or food or misapplied credits but those are almost always due to mistake not fraud).

  19. I have rented a room with Airbnb several times and have always had a positive experience. That being said, I probably need to take more before and after photos.

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