The hosts entrepreneurial approach to insurance was a surprise. An even greater surprise was the reaction of the Airbnb Trust and Safety Team. Their first response is “We work hard to keep our community trustworthy and safe”. My experience differed. I found the Airbnb Trust and Safety Team did not work hard, declined to do anything that would help to keep the community (guests) safe and declined to do anything that would help to keep the community (host) trustworthy.
My indignation is getting ahead of the explanation…….,…….I set out below, in chronological order, a cautionary tale.
It was late afternoon on a Sunday in March 2018 and we had flown into the town of Mendoza, Argentina. We had booked and prepaid accommodation in Mendoza through the Airbnb site. The host greeted us and showed us the apartment. The host then required us to provide our credit card details to them before we were able to stay.
This was a shock. As veterans of 25 Airbnb rentals we had never been put in this situation before. There had been no mention of this requirement to us before we arrived and we had no recollection of having seen it on the listing. We felt ambushed. We felt we were without bargaining position because where else could we go at this late hour on a Sunday? The host said it was a damage guarantee, that they refer to it on the listing for the apartment and this arrangement has been authorised by Airbnb.
Unsurprisingly, there is no reference to collecting credit card details on the listing for the apartment. Airbnb confirmed that they do not authorise such arrangements. The host was slippery with the truth and my exposure is that the host will make a malicious charge to my credit card. I felt at financial risk staying at this Airbnb location.
I reported the matter to the Airbnb Trust and Safety Team and that correspondence is summarised and reproduced below:
1. I wrote a 1300 word report of the conversation with the host and sent this to Airbnb Trust and Safety Team.
2. Airbnb responded with what looked like an automated reply asking for information that had been provided and identifying that they have no liability for payments made outside Airbnb platform.
3. I asked that they read my submission as I think it answers their questions. If there is anything more that I can provide then let me know and I will do my best to help them.
4. Airbnb told me my report was not sufficient proof that this event had occurred and they could do nothing further.
5. I sent Airbnb the form that the host had created and printed out to be filled in with my credit card details. This form included the hosts name, my name and the hosts signature. It is a blank authority to charge my credit card.
6. Airbnb said that they reviewed the hosts form and it is not in violation of Airbnb terms of service
7. I expressed surprise as I had always understood that Airbnb require all payments to be made through the Airbnb site and not to be collected directly by the host.
8. Airbnb responded to say that the host was operating outside the Airbnb terms of service. However, if I gave the host my credit card details that’s my problem not theirs.
9. I suggested that now Airbnb has identified the host is in breach of the Terms of Service that Airbnb may wish to take action.
10. Airbnb responded that I had not been “able to provide us any proof this situation really happened” and they would now close the case.
11. I made several suggestions to Airbnb of how they may like to proceed with my report:
a) Send an email to the host identifying the behaviour that had been reported to them. Remind the host that collecting credit card details from a guest is a breach of the Terms of Service. Ask the host to respond to Airbnb,
b) Airbnb could ask a number of previous guests if they had been required to provide their credit card details. This would garner additional “proof”, although a surfeit of evidence was already in the hands of Airbnb,
c) I suggested that Airbnb could write to guests who had booked to stay in the future and let them know of my report and warn/advise those guests not to provide credit card details.
I thought these were very sensible suggestions to help Airbnb “work hard to keep our community trustworthy and safe”. I heard nothing more from Airbnb in response to my suggestions.
12. Three days later I received a feedback request from Airbnb regarding my report and how it had been resolved. I rated the representative as lowly as I could. I identified the Trust and Safety Issue as unresolved. I heard nothing more from Airbnb in response to my feedback.
1. Stories of short term rentals being damaged by guests are newsworthy and published. Consequently, I expect we shall see more hosts protecting themselves by collecting credit card details from guests and operating a bond scheme similar to the one I encountered here. Even if it is outside the parameters of their Airbnb contract.
2. Disputes will undoubtedly arise as guests will have a different view of any charge made to their credit card by a host. The scenario can be abused by the host. Malicious charges could be made by the host to the guests credit card.
3. In this specific Mendoza circumstance (and probably in most) there is no process in place to agree a condition report at the start of the rental, or at the end of a rental, or any agreement of damage valuation and no dispute resolution processes.
4. Airbnb declined to contact the hosts when I reported this incident to them and this would have been the mildest form of action available to them. If this is the consistent Airbnb response, Airbnb are tacitly supporting the host gathering credit card details from guests. I anticipate that the frequency of the event I experienced will increase.
5. Once the host holds the guest credit card details the reviews of the listing by guests are devalued. So too the value of the Airbnb service. Will the host maliciously process a charge to my credit card if I post a negative review? In this specific case in Mendoza, the previous guests reviews were unanimously positive. Not one review mentioned that the host held the guests credit card details!!!
6. If confronted with this situation again I would call the Airbnb Trust and Safety line at check-in with the host stood next to me. Given my experience here, I do not have confidence in the Airbnb Trust and Safety Team. However, I think making the call may be sufficient to get the host to revise their approach. The telephone number is available through the Airbnb site and seems to operate on a call back basis to your mobile.
7. If the host persisted in requiring my credit card before I could stay, I think that is the time to walk away and find a hotel. In my view it is financially unsafe to trust someone I have never met with my credit card. Particularly when that person has already shown themselves to be slippery with the truth.
I did post a negative review of the property on the Airbnb listing. I felt an obligation to prevent others being ambushed by this host. The way that I had been ambushed by this host. I felt an obligation to help future guests the way Airbnb did not.
Unauthorised charges from Argentina have not appeared on my credit card account. When I returned to Australia I cancelled the credit card as I felt it had been compromised.
Subsequent to my experience, Airbnb has elevated the host to “Superhost” status. Airbnb promotes “Superhost” on the hosts multiple listings.