I tend to be way too wordy, so I'll try to keep this as concise as possible, and greatly appreciate any advice. Kind of a long story, but I think it's worth mentioning all the parts to get the full picture.
Bought a house in Nicaragua a year ago, strictly for vacation rental income, so I take this very seriously, as it's not "extra money". I don't know how many total people we have now hosted, but in less than a year we have 42 reviews, so I'd guess at least 65 reservations and 100+ people, at least. All reviews have been 5 star, written reviews are fantastic, Superhost status, I'm way overpaying the property manager to make sure we get great reviews, seems like every day I read another glowing review, I was feeling great about the house and all was going well...
Two weeks ago I had to go Nicaragua for business for 10 days. The house was already rented with 3 different short term reservations, so I stayed one night in the house, then moved to a hotel and let the property manager continue check ins / check outs as usual (All reservations are confirmed to meet with him, as I live in US, but happened to be there when this happened). On Feb 28 he called and told me he had just checked in some guests that he felt weird about, and thought they might be a problem, but he wasn't sure why. He has never done this before, but I didn't think much of it... the next day I recieved a text (a real SMS text - not through Airbnb) from this guest, saying they had bed bugs. Actually a "huge infestation" of bed bugs. I panicked, as this is of course a host's worst nightmare, and I had no reason to think she was lying (yet). The guest didn't realize I was in Nicaragua (looking back, this all makes more sense, but at the time I didn't realize what was happening) so she was surprised when I immediately responded, and told her I would find the property manager and be there within the hour.
Property manager and I got to the house and waited until they finally showed up, then I let her tell me all about this huge bed bug infestation that I knew wasn't true, but I didn't want to be rude and call her a liar, so I just apologized for the inconvenience and said I'd do all I could to help. I still did think there was a possibility it might be true, but it seemed unlikely, since the house had been full every night for months and nobody else noticed any bed bugs. Still, I was scared to death this might be real. Until I met the guests and felt how staged they were. The whole thing was an uncomfortable and dramatic show (as I'm sure she didn't think I'd actually be in Nicaragua, and thought this would all be going through a middle man property manager). It was all very 8th grade drama class, but I was trying to go with "the customer is always right" and also just wanted them out of my house, so I agreed with everything she said and tried to shoo them out.
At this point, the guests had spent one night in the house, and they had a 3 night reservation. I immediately refunded their total reservation from my phone on the spot, and offered to take their clothes to the laundry, as we would be taking all bedding, towels, sheets, etc (Didn't yet know if this was real or not, so had to take EVERYTHING to be sterlized and laundered, as though it was real). They declined, and went on and on about how they will still leave a positive review because this can happen anywhere, they live in Costa Rica (this changed later), they know all about Airbnb and don't want to mess up my reviews, etc. At the time, this seemed strange to me, because I was literally worried about potential bed bugs and the thousands of dollars and incredible nightmare that would mean, not reviews... As my property manager was getting them into the car to take them to a hotel (with 3 bags I had given them to use for luggage), I told them I had already issued the full refund via Airbnb, but this is my first time doing anything like this, so I'm not sure if it is immediate or will take 24 hours to clear or whatever... The older man barked "Oh, we know how it works" and got in the car. This stuck with me, but I was still worried we might have bed bugs, and had much bigger things to worry about. Now, I can see it was a scam...
Long story short, we had 2 exterminators come to the house, both of whom said we had no bed bugs. Turns out, they're super rare in Nicaragua anyway, but by that point I had already refunded 100% of their 3 night stay, so I went ahead and did another full house fumigation, which we have to do every few months anyway (open air house, tropical country). This meant I also had to cancel the next reservation (takes a few days to air out after fumigation), all for a fake bed bug claim. So at this point, they had cost me quite a bit, but I was just happy to be rid of them.
The next day, I got a text (again, now I see how they used Airbnb messages for bed bug claims and regular SMS for things like this) saying they had a set of my keys and also needed $40 for laundry reimbursement. She also disputed my 100% refund, because the Airbnb fees had been taken out, and she wanted cash for the difference. I was just so ready to be done with these people, I had the property manager take them $40 in cash so we could just be finished with them. Fine. At this point, their fake claim had cost me their own reservation (and myself staying in a hotel because of their reservation), the next reservation, cost of unnecessary full house fumigation, and $40 cash. It was ridiculous, but I just didn't want to deal with them anymore, so I considered it a lesson learned.
A full week passes, and now I'm back in the US. I have not reviewed her, she has not reviewed me, but by this time I've put some pieces together and am aware I've been taken, and these folks are pros. Don't even really care, because I'm just so happy that I don't really have bed bugs, which would be a nightmare to deal with in Nicaragua. Honestly, I was just waiting for the 12 days to run out, so they couldn't write a bad review, then I wouldn't have to write one either, and I could just pretend it didn't happen and hope this wasn't a planned con, as I was afraid it might have been.
Yesterday I got a message from her, saying they continue to have major bed bug problems, now they have brought the bugs home with them (guess they live in the US and not Costa Rica now), I have clearly known about this for a long time and I'm engaged in some kind of scam or coverup, they feel misled and lied to, I am falsely marketing my property and knowingly exposing guests to a known health hazard, they are very knowledgable about Airbnb's insurance policies for things like this, etc etc... It was written in that kind of language someone uses when they want to scare you legally (except that everyone in my family is a lawyer, so I knew it was BS). Then she itemized all the things I owed her for (please remember she already declined my offer to launder things): $40 laundry fee, $120 extra hotel night "because laundry wasn't finished in time to catch the bus", and on and on and on... At the end of it, she asked for $600 cash, or she'll leave a review about bed bugs. Pretty sure that is clear extortion.
Not only did I offer to do their laundry already (which would have negated the $600 in made up charges anyway), but I have refunded them in full, and gave $40 cash for the laundry on top of that, already! This was a very clear extortion attempt, so I called Airbnb before responding, and was advised that there is not much I can do. They did tell me to provide proof of extermination, which I did, and they said maybe if she leaves a bad review (which she will - that was the threat, if I didn't cough up the extra $600, which I didn't, so the review is undoubtebly coming) Airbnb might be able to delete it, as they have proof that both an exterminator and the Health Dept of Nicaragua certified that we don't have bed bugs. This sure seems like a lot of work to just keep a lie from killing my income. In the US, you could sue for libel, but of course that wouldn't fly in Nicaragua, so I would love any general Airbnb advice on this? I have proactively sent proof that it's not true, but the same kind of thing could happen in the future with another made up problem. Is there no way to safeguard against made up problems / attempts to get money?
This has raised larger questions for me. Obviously I should have been much more careful in accepting guests, in general. This person had 0 reviews, so I should have declined her anyway, but I didn't think to look at the profile again until this all happened. I googled her name, and the person who came up was indeed there, but was presented to me as the guest's friend (the actual guest had a different name). Hindsight is always 20/20 and now I can see they were probably sh***ing their pants when they realized I was actually in town and showing up at the house when they sent the bed bug alert (I'm sure they assumed I'd be in US and accept their word for it), so they forgot who they were supposed to be or who was supposed to be the bed bug expert or whatever. Still my fault for accepting a no review BS account, but now my bigger concern is that this is probably bigger than just my property. These 3 people knew about the Airbnb process and how many hours until refunds would hit their account, what to include on Airbnb messaging and what to use personal texts for, 2nd grade legal jargon to try to scare people (and of course the magic "bed bugs" scare), the importance of reviews, and the ins and outs of Airbnb's insurance policies. Seems like a lot to know for a person who is having her first Airbnb experience (according to the profile).
Now that it is pretty clear this is a fake account, what can I do (other than leaving an honest review) to keep this person from lying and trying to extort money from other hosts? Of course "bed bugs" is the scariest thing she could threaten to say in a review, and now I can see the method in the messages on Airbnb vs phone, and why she didn't accept my offer to pay for laundry, other little things along the way... This is not her first or last, but I'm sure this person is opening and closing Airbnb profiles all the time... How do I help get the word out about her? What do I do in the future to keep this from happening again? There was a day when I didn't have any reviews either, so I hate to just ban everybody with no reviews, because I assume they're fake? Airbnb is supposedly looking into other profiles associated with this email / banking info, but I feel like there must be some other way I can keep this from happening again? Any advice?
This $259 reservation is costing me thousands, and seems to be quite a refined little racket con job, so I'm sure it is happening to other hosts as well. What do I do?? To be honest, I'm just so offended by the personal accusation that I am knowingly lying and misrepresenting my property, it has become a personal mission now to make sure this doesn't happen to others.
I sent Airbnb proof that I don't have bed bugs, so even if she does leave a negative review, they will delete it (hopefully) because they are already aware of it. But how do I keep it from happening to myself or others in the future? Is there not some way to prevent negative reviews from being posted at all, when there is a clear attempt to extort money?
Sorry... Said I'd keep it short. Ha. Thanks for any advice or suggestions.
Hi @Ashley thank you for posting about your experience. I have been hosting for many years, have a ton of reviews, am a very experienced host and in your shoes, I would have done the exact same thing.
Thank you @Ashley for shering this story with community. This can happend to any of us anytime and catch us unprepared.
But, thinking about it now, without any stress , if it ever happens to me I would:
1 - tell them to move out
2 - let them cancel the reservation on Airbnb and ask for a refund through Airbnb
3 - check my beds by myself. I googled and it is easy to spot bedbugs with naked eyes. I would take a video and photos of my matrasses and send a message to my guests through Airbnb that I didn't find any bugs .
4 - send photos and the whole story to Airbnb before my guests even try to make a refund claim.
I wouldn't pay for exterminators if I don't see any bug anywhere , especially if my gut feeling says they are scammers. And there is no evidence of bugs existance.
At the end, I think, the only refund thay could get with Airbnb assistance is a full refund for their stay. I don't belive they can get a refund for clothes cleaning etc... specially without any evidence of bedbugs or receipt of loundry service etc.
I would certanly flag their profile and if I could write a review then I would mention their extortion attempt.
Thanks, all. I did leave an honest review of the guests, and did report to Airbnb. I also completely agree that I should have stood my ground more as it was all happening, and should not have accepted a guest with 0 reviews anyway. I will consider those lessons learned for the future. However, I'm still wondering if there is anything to be done if it does turn out that people like this just open and close accounts all the time. In that case, my negative review of her doesn't hold much power, because they can just open another account. At the end of the day, it's not a huge deal, I was just trying to figure out how to best warn people about scammers, after reporting them via phone and email to Airbnb (both of which were handled beautifully by Airbnb) and leaving the negative review. Seems like a whole new thing I hadn't considered before - guests making up claims for money. So that's why I came to the forum for advice. Thanks for all of your answers. Much appreciated.
Always, always have the guest write up their concerns thru Airbn communication. We have had one problem guest out of 222. My correspondence with her was all on Airbnb's site. They reviewed the line of communication and supported me, the host 100%, even with legal support as this women claimed to have fallen at our Airbnb and had to be hospitilaized. It turned out not to be true. Trust Airbnb. They are good, really good. But keep their phone number on hand. In a case like this, call them before you do or pay anything.
Geez, Ashley, I'm sorry that happened to you, I totally understand the panic when someone threatens a bad review since it recently happened to me. I understand wanting to just give them the money, as I ended up refunding a night rather than getting my first bad review ever. However, I now regret not standing my ground and realizing that one bad review out of dozens and dozens of 5 star wasn't going to kill my business. It would be more of a pride thing for me not to have 100% great reviews. I'll learn from this experience and keep my eyes open for scammers too. I hate that they can open new account after account, and we are stuck with false reviews forever, and I wish there was a way to flag these fake guests as well. The biggest lesson I learned is not to write a review until way later in the 14 day period, as this guest waited 6 days to inform me of her complaints, well after the 48 hour period for me to edit my review. Now her only review is mine saying what a lovely guest she was and how I'd welcome her back. Not so much after her extortion. AND she can still write me a bad review. LIVE AND LEARN!
Thanks for sharing your story :)
I wonder if these ladies are the same group that extorted free nights due to Bex bugs in my home in Puerto Rico....i did not accept any communications outside of AIRBNB FIRST. I also had extrementatoes come verify there were no Bed bugs....the stayed but trashed the place left hours after check out and then requested a refund. This is scary. I have a guest retaliating because I caught them trying to bring additional people into the apartment then agreed or allowed. Both of theze guest threaten with bad reviews. Can AIRBNB help by ranking host in a less one person can destroy you way?
I am so sorry I missed this thread back in March. ANY guest that even attempts to create a 'hostage' situation by threatening a bad review should be immediately taken to task, and that usually kills the whole scheme at the root. Hustlers count on fear and timidity for their scam to work. I had a guest that tried to hustle me by claiming that 24th-28th means 5 days (not 4) and threatened a bad review, I dare him to do so, and told him I would publicly make him look like the fool he was if he did; he didn't, but I did.
Ashley should have been commended for sharing her (very well-written) story and even shared her mistakes with other hosts here; she was after all coming from 'Hosting Utopia' (hundreds of great reviews in a row) and then out of nowhere hit with a scam. A a very helpful reminder, stay on guard.
Airbnb should come hard on hustlers, for they do not remotely deserve ANY benefit of doubt nor be placated to whatsoever.
I do agree with everything you said about the original post. Excellent coment! Although sometimes they do, Airbnb cannot be counted upon to support hosts in many cases.
The 24th - 28th confusion results from the occasional misunderstanding that we actually sell nights, not days.
Thanks, Fred. Airbnb did agree to not publish any potential bad review from the hustlers (just had to send in proof of clean reports from dept of health and exterminators) and I learned a lot of lessons from the whole ordeal. My understanding is that they were removed from the platform altogether, but I'm sure there are tons of people like this out there, which was the reason I posted in the first place. Learned my lesson about posting here :) but thanks for your comment and nice words.
@Ashley, thank you for sharing your story. I am sorry I am seeing this so late, but we just became hosts a few months ago.
In your story, at one point you are standing in your property with the scammers who claimed there were bedbugs.
It sounded like you did not ask them to show you the bedbugs (which is the first thing I would have asked).
Am I missing something here?
You seem very experienced and knowledgeable, which is why it seems to strange that (it sounds like) no one asked them "can you show me the bedbugs you found?"
Yes, there was a point where we were all (myself included) standing in the bedroom that supposedly had bed bugs. I did ask them to show them to me, and of course there was nothing to show, but one of the girls was going on and on about how difficult they are to see and they were all showing me bites on their legs (which were real bites, but not from bed bugs). We all inspected mattresses together and they made a full show of it, but I already knew that didn't really mean much when it comes to bed bugs and they knew it... Anyway, I learned a lot of lessons from that experience, and I no longer accept guests with no previous reviews, I unfortunately no longer go to this group for questions or help, and I am definitely much less worried about reviews than I was when this happened in March... I also learned that Airbnb is very helpful in cases like this (just had to send in extermination certificates and proof from health dept that we had no bed bugs, and the scammer was deleted from the plastform altogether). Wish I hadn't fallen for it, but I did... Hopefully there won't be a next time, but if there is... at least I'll see it coming. Hope other hosts will too.
@Ashley @Matthew. If I can just say one thing here. I'm Rob, an Airbnb Superhost from Australia, I am part of the Experts Group and we are aware of this issue, and as far as Airbnb is concerned there will be a zero tollerance to a false bedbug claim. We understand the consequences of a claim like this on the host and it is pointed out to the complainant now that if their claim cannot be substantiated their account will be immediately closed...are they prepared to proceed with their request!
We have seen the situation where a guest has travelled with a supply of bedbugs and deposited a few on leaving and then requesting a full refund for their stay.
What goes on is understood and ways to combat this issue are constantly being monitored, and I know, at times the company is being seen as the enemy of the host. This saddens all of us who just want to see justice done. We also have to experience the other side of the coin where a host has claimed cigarette damage to the value of $2,000 for an outdoor setting that was purchased from the Salvation Army opp shop for $175.00.
It is hard being the meat in the sandwich!
All we can do is try, we won't always get it right but, we will try!
I was suprised how many unhelpful and unsympathetic replies you received. It is upsetting and disillusioning when guests behave badly. I find myself distressed quite a bit by the behaviour of people in general and in particular guests. A saying I often find true is 'No good deed goes unpunished'. Maybe you should let the matter go now. You have done everything in your power and it is a source of anguish and worry and it will only prolong the expense and problems.