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Is booking an Airbnb a good way to get money to people in Ukraine?

Tens of millions of pounds has been sent directly to people in Ukraine by Airbnb users booking listings they had no intention of using.

The tech giant waived its fees, meaning all the money went directly to the owners. According to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky 434,000 nights had been booked. That number is likely to be much higher now.

Many people who donated said they were happy that the money they paid was going directly to Ukrainians. The help was personal and immediate.

However, there were also warnings. Some travel experts were concerned that there was a risk of fraud, or that money may go to professional real estate and accommodation management firms who list multiple properties - rather than the individuals and families people intended to help.

Should I worry about fraud with my Airbnb booking?

Which? has previously investigated fraud on Airbnb, as well as other private rental platforms. It used to be a significant problem, with fraudsters able to set up a fake listing, and steal the money people used to book. Back in 2017 Which? was able to set up multiple fake listings on the platform.

But Airbnb has substantially improved security since 2017. It's undertaken a number of measures to make it far harder for scammers to exploit the platform, including the crucial requirement that hosts now show government-issued ID before listings are accepted. It's impossible to say the risk of fraud is zero, but it's not something to worry about - especially if you vet the listing (see tips below).

What's the best way to send money directly to Airbnb owners?

It can be difficult, at first glance, to know whether the property you are booking is owned by an individual or a professional rental firm. But by looking at reviews and photos it's possible to learn a little bit about the owners and get some idea of who will be benefiting.

  • Choose a long-established listing with reviews that suggest the owner is closely involved and based in the same area. Look for reviews where it mentions guests interacting with or meeting the owner - that rarely happens with professional listings. Newer Airbnb listings have been set up since this campaign started but unfortunately it is very hard to verify if these are genuine.
  • Check the owner's profile to see if they have any other properties. It's better to choose somebody who's just renting out their own property, rather than an owner of multiple properties who may be based elsewhere.
  • Only pay via Airbnb. Fraudsters will often encourage guests to use bank transfer or pay in other ways outside of the platform.
  • Let the host know that you won't be needing the space, so they can give it to somebody else if necessary.

Is there a better way to send money to Ukraine?

The campaign to send money to Ukraine in this way was not initiated by Airbnb itself. It's a grassroots phenomenon promoted by individual Airbnb owners on Instagram and Twitter.

Airbnb has its own charity, Airbnb.org, which has partnered with the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) to help Ukraine.

The IOM told us: 'IOM and Airbnb.org have a partnership agreement to help all those fleeing Ukraine by providing short-term housing and temporary accommodation in Moldova, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Poland.

To support this initiative, you may donate via Airbnb.org or via IOM's donation portal - both are trusted and secure channels to make financial contributions for the response in Ukraine.'

Airbnb hosts have also helped, through Airbnb.org, by providing accommodation directly to refugees. By 13 March, 36,000 people had signed up to do this.