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13 Aug 2021

'Why does my Airbnb host want me to check in under a different name and impersonate someone else?'

Which? steps in to get to the bottom of an odd Airbnb identity swap incident

Do you have an issue you need put right? Which? is here to help get your consumer problems sorted.

Dear Which?,

My wife booked a seven-night stay in a Brooklyn-based apartment on Airbnb so her elderly parents could enjoy New York during the 4 July holiday. The host required the entire payment of more than £1,500 to secure the booking upfront, which we paid in full.

Alarm bells started ringing when the host asked our guests to impersonate someone called 'Christen' when collecting the keys from the concierge. Fearing fraud, we immediately cancelled the booking, unsure whether the host had the legal ability to list the apartment.

After we raised our complaint, we didn't hear from Airbnb for three weeks.

Under the host's cancellation policy we were only entitled to a refund equivalent to two days of the trip, excluding a service and cleaning fee. As Airbnb failed to fully vet the host and we were asked to participate in fraud, we deserve all our money back.

Why did our host want us to check in under a different name and impersonate someone else? Please can you persuade Airbnb to look into our case and raise awareness of this issue?

Charles*, 35, London.

Put to rights

Luke Jeffery, consumer rights expert at Which? says:

It sounds like it could have been a far from relaxing holiday for your wife's parents. You did the right thing in cancelling the booking right away.

It's unsettling to think your in-laws were asked to impersonate someone else to enter paid accommodation.

Airbnb should have investigated the listing when you brought it to its attention. Doing so could have ruled out anything malicious and reassured you it was taking your complaint seriously. This would have been the sensible and practical thing to do. Instead, Airbnb left the listing live and bookable for a further three weeks.

Cities crack down on Airbnb listings

Around the world, cities have been cracking down on Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms, leading some hosts to ask guests to do strange things when they come to use the property.

In New York for example, a 2019 law makes it illegal to rent out apartments for less than 30 days in buildings with three or more permanent residential apartments unless the owner is present during this time. If apartment owners break this rule they could be evicted from their property or face hefty fines.

When we contacted Airbnb to get to the bottom of this, it told us that it had investigated the listing and that nothing sinister was taking place, it was simply a misunderstanding.

The host told Airbnb that they didn't live in New York and couldn't get back in time to alert the concierge of the change in guests that would be using the apartment. 'Christen' was the name of the previous guest who couldn't make the trip. As the host couldn't get back in time to update the booking, they suggested your guests use that name to gain entry to the building.

After we spoke to Airbnb, it agreed to refund the rest of the money. In this case, the host's shambling communication skills deprived your wife's parents of a trip to New York.

In a statement, an Airbnb spokesman told us: 'We were saddened to learn of this experience and have reached out to the guest to apologise and provide them with a full refund. We hold all Hosts to high standards, and we suspended the listing while we carried out a thorough investigation. In this instance, we do not believe any malicious activity took place.'

Airbnb should have acted quicker when you first alerted them to potential misuse. You were right to feel uncomfortable with the booking and were within your rights to withdraw from the booking for a full refund. Airbnb should have refunded you before you had to contact Which?

If you've had a bad experience with Airbnb, there are steps you can take if you are unhappy with the accommodation you've booked or the service you've received.

Need to know

  • If your Airbnb accommodation isn't up to scratch - you have 24 hours to submit a 'Guest Refund Policy claim' if something isn't right with your accommodation.
  • Gather evidence - Airbnb tells guests to take photos or videos to document any issues such as lack of access to the building, dirty surfaces and linen, or safety hazards.
  • Communicate with your host - You have the option to ask your host to fix the issue. Try to get help within 24 hours of arrival otherwise your refund amount might be affected.

Get in touch. If you've got a consumer rights problem you need put to right email us: yourstory@which.co.uk

Please be aware that we cannot help with, or respond to every email we receive. The inbox is monitored periodically during office hours, Monday-Friday 9am-5pm.

*name has been changed at request of the case study