What you can learn from this Airbnb horror story

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News of Airbnb’s impressive series of fundraising has been making the rounds, as well it should. The alternative travel site secured $112 million, boosting it to a $1.3 billion valuation. Airbnb has been one of Silicon Valley’s startup darlings, stealing attention with its plans for global expansion as well as its quick rise to the top of the online travel game.

The company has had a pretty storybook beginning, with nary a complaint lodged against its content or business model. Unfortunately, that chapter has come to an end. An Airbnb user named EJ had a horrifying experience using the site, in which her apartment was ransacked, destroyed, and massive amounts of her information were stolen.

Reading EJ’s blog would make any Airbnb user more than a little nervous, and leaves you with a few things to consider.

False sense of security

It’s no secret that Airbnb gamed Craiglist. The site allegedly created fake Gmail accounts to spam people posting their rental homes on Craiglist and recruit them to Airbnb. And with its eye-catching layout, user-friendly interface, and social integration, it makes sense that users could be persuaded to ditch Craigslist.

This, combined with Craigslist’s somewhat Wild West reputation, has given Airbnb users a false sense of security. In reality, Airbnb likely doesn’t warn people quite enough of what they are getting into. Craigslist might be something of an eyesore and fraught with scam artists, but at least you are notified in big, bold, impossible-to-ignore warnings. Airbnb is no worse or better than Craigslist when it comes to authenticity, although judging it at face value might be more comforting. According to its terms of use, Airbnb asserts that it has “no control over the conduct of our users or the truth or accuracy of the information that users post on the site.” It also says “we make no attempt to confirm, and do not confirm, any user’s purported identity.”

This is all standard stuff, but it’s important to note that just because it’s secured itself a billion dollar valuation and investors like Ashton Kutcher doesn’t mean you can’t do your homework on the users you may interact with on the site. Lesson learned? Regardless of reputation, use caution.

Lack of adequate customer service

Perhaps one of the most disturbing parts of EJ’s sordid story was the fact that she struggled to get in touch with an Airbnb representative. “I tried their ‘urgent’ line, their e-mail address, their general customer support line. I heard nothing – no response whatsoever – until the following day, 14 sleepless hours later, and only after a desperate call to an Airbnb.com freelancer I happen to know helped my case get some attention.”

It seems like common sense to assume that a service renting out personal homes to strangers would have an effective way to remedy situations gone wrong. EJ isn’t the first to complain about the company’s unresponsive nature, and many users have expressed frustration with how long it takes Airbnb to deal with issues.

This isn’t all to say that Airbnb is a scam or doomed – not in the slightest. It’s still a great concept, and one that’s worked before. But the publicity surround the site may have overshadowed all the potential problems that naturally come with renting a room from strangers. It’s easy to be won over by Airbnb, but don’t forget that this is still the Internet and it’s way too easy for anyone with ill intentions to hide behind a convincing profile.

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