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.
I don't actually know that that is the case Wendy! There are numerous examples of people suing from afar. Almost every lawyers page will illustrate examples of cases where libel has crossed territories, even countries. I am sure @David could give a more accurate and informed opinion on that.
In 2011, a book author sued a man, though unsuccessfully, who wrote negative reviews about his book on Amazon. And in 2006, a woman in Florida won $11.3 million in a lawsuit resulting from defamatory remarks on an Internet message board. The internet seems to have removed those traditional borders.
Whether @Ashley contributed to her own problems is debatable but, as a society we simply cannot condone libel, slander or extortion in any way, and I would strongly suggest that every opportunity possible be taken to chase this 'guest' through the legal system not just to curtail these activities this time but, to warn others who feel this could be a solid way to make a buck.
If nothing happens this will just keep on getting more prevelant and if Airbnb value their reputation in any way they would be well advised to support hosting victims of this situation rather than side with the guest and attempt to shut the host down when compliance is proved.
And please guys, can we not get too personal as far as each other is concerned! Collectively we are great people, all any of us want to do is help. We are all in this Airbnb lifeboat together bobbing around in a potential sea of rocks and sharks....lets support each other as best we can and reach out for wrists rather than slapping them.
In Scheff v. Brock, Bock didn't have a lawyer (because Bock had no funds to pay one) and the jury awarded the 11.3M to Scheff (more than half was for punitive damages.
Scheff included another defendant in her suit who DID have an attorney and a judge dismissed the charges against that defendant.
Bottom line, anyone can sue anyone for anything. But winning is a whole different matter.
Thank you for your comment,
Jennifer, simply paid to have these guests relocated and other expenses incurred on the basis, that what they said was true.
Where the slander/libel has taken place, is that what they said was untrue and Jennifer has expert to confirm this, Jennifer’s good name and reputation has been impugned and her livelihood effected.
Let’s hope there’s not an infestation of bed bugs on the Airbnb site.
Airbnb needs a Director of Fraud and a legal department to protect Host from these activities.
I don't get this. Although I smell a rat, they'd go to all this trouble for one free night and a slight possibility that they'l get $600? There are easier ways to make money.
Let me try again on the right thread:
I would make sure that all this is concisley reacorded on the AirBnB message system.
I reaslise that you now appreciate your errors in gandling what was always going to be a difficult situation, you just made it worse.
Personallly I would make a claim through the Resolution Center for all your costs and lost income, you are not going to get anything realistically, might make them think and move on to their next victim.
The point about how many other reservation this person could make while Ashley was not doing a review is moot. Ashley's review wouldn't appear until the guest did hers or 14 days plus some hours extension to do it. On this point those saying Ashley didn't consider other hosts are being clueless.
@John, I've been told I'm all sorts of things but I've never been told I'm clueless.
ABB specifically states that you have 14 days from checkout to post a review.
Nowhere does ABB state that it takes 14 days for your review to post.
Hello @Wendy & Frank,
When you, as a host, start the process to write a review of a guest you're told that your review will appear when both reviews have been written or when the 14 day period has elapsed.
I've had several guests for whom I written a review but wh didn't review me. In each case my review appeared on their profile 14 days later.
@Steve, that is correct.
If Angry Guest writes her review today, the day of check out, and I write MY review today, the day of check out, they will both post immediately.
So if you've hosted Angry Guest, a host should write the review immediately to alert other hosts.
It is no secret that angry consumers are more likely to write a review than happy consumers, and they're more likely to do it quicker than happy consumers.
So, as a host who is unafraid of negative of reviews, I would write a review about Angry Guest know that Angry Guest has probably already written hers.
Running out the clock for fourteen days is disingenuous at best and dangerous at worst.
You would already know Wendy if the guest wrote a review before you as AIRBNB notify you that they do. No supposition required. You said that Ashley should let other hosts know but unless Ashley was notified that the other guest had done a review, it wouldnt appear until the guest did theirs. Until then other hosts would accept them. Glad to give you some clues :)
@John , that is not always true. I used to be notifed that a guest left a review on the rare occasions I had not already done my review, usually within a few hours of the guest leaving. Latey, been a bit lazy and waited a few days, I have done my review and then a few minutes later I get a notice that both reviews have been made public and to check out my review. I was suprised by not receiving the prompt that my guest had left his/her review.
sorry this happened to you, i agree with some answers here, you made a bad situation worse. the moment you smelled a rat you should have stood your ground, but i can relate to your panic on some level. bedbugs are a nightmare, that's why i check my properties carefully and thoroughly after every guest leaves, just in case. if a guest then made a claim, it was them who either brought them or invented them. you could even go so far as to say this on your listing, that may discourage future scammers. i would mobilize the lawyers in your family and go after them for your damages, good luck!
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.