Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

Level 10
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Following a 7-month long deep dive into the alleged fraudulent and illegal activities of prolific mega-host Domio, and subsequent exposé by Paris Martineau of The Information, Airbnb last week "suspended the host for investigation"
 
The operative word here in this story is "suspended" - not "immediately banned" - despite Domio allegedly having a long and sordid history of operating illegal listings, running "party houses", engaging in fraudulent activities and various other shady business practices. (While Domio has indeed been restricted from taking new bookings at this time, there has been no statement from Airbnb to suggest that they haven't been permitted to continue taking guests whose bookings had already been in place at time of suspension) 
 
Yet, in stark contrast - as clearly evidenced from every second post on this forum, and others - regular hosts live in a state of constant fear, angst and paranoia about losing their Superhost status over a single bad review, and all too often, will allow their guests to walk all over them and treat them like doormats because they're petrified of a retaliatory review if they stand up for themselves.
 
And not without good reason too. We're all acutely aware that Airbnb can - and regularly do - delist small hosts if a guest reports that their host as much as farted in the wrong tone.. no questions asked, no explanation offered, and no opportunity given for the host to ever defend themselves. Not so for the likes of the big players like Domio, it would appear. 
 
Rumours are widely circulating that Airbnb's "relationship" with Domio (and with a number of other mega-host types operating on its site) may transcend somewhat beyond the normal "platform/host" parameters that one might consider appropriate under conflict of interest terms. 
 
@Airbnb @Catherine-Powell - given the weight of solid evidence against them, and the wealth of publicly available information pertaining to their nefarious practices and activities over the past 2-3 years, any comment on how/why this "host" hasn't been delisted yet please, and whether there is any truth in the above-mentioned rumours? 
 
Dennis Schaal's Skift article on the suspensions (original article from the Information beind a paywall, so no point in posting here) 

https://skift.com/2020/08/19/airbnb-suspends-domios-host-accounts-and-listings-following-fraud-alleg...

 
Podcast with Cory Weinberg and Paris Martineau from The Information, who broke the original story on Domio last week
https://open.spotify.com/episode/6m2iT82E2RTEU4IO6QcZP4?si=cC8SbGC2SwaqOen8oIptDw
 
Article from The Tennessean, which reported on Domio's illegal activities in 2019
 
And dodgy dealings going right back to January 2018, this time in Boston..
 
Scrounging money from the PPP, despite having received $100 million in VC funding just months earlier.. 
 
And Domio's own employees have a lot of beans to spill.. (skip over the glowing 5 star reviews that they practically force their new employees to write, within a week of starting the job) .. 
Penelope
17 Replies

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

Level 10
Article below from Laoise Neylon of the Dublin Inquirer, who reported a very similar story on a Dublin "host" called Hiphipstay last December, just weeks after Allie Conti's Vice article on scamming Airbnb hosts went viral, and Airbnb was forced to make public announcements on the measures it would be taking, with immediate effect, to curb these "bad actors" on its platform. 
 
Hiphipstay's account was riddled with hundreds of false reviews from fake profiles associated with their own account, and scores of their genuine reviews reported filthy conditions, bait and switch tactics, listings at incorrect addresses, properties in state of disrepair, unsafe and unsanitary listings and even strangers entering the property while the female guests were sleeping. 
 
Astonishingly, Hiphipstay was reinstated by Airbnb in mid-January, with the false reviews and fake profiles wiped clean off their account. Hiphipstay then proceeded to repay Airbnb's inexplicably lenient and favourable treatment of them by persuading their inquiring guests to hop on over to their own website and book there instead, with the hook of saving on Airbnb's extortionate fees. The company (as *always* in these instances, run by a couple of young, dumb but reasonably well-to-do millenials with negligible life, business or hospitality skills, but invariably with daddies/friends with connections in the property development, finance, real estate and/or political worlds) has since gone to ground, according to reports, with substantial sums of their guests' money
 
Laoise Neylon's recent follow up article to her previous December 2019 investigative piece on Hiphipstay. 
 
Trustpilot reviews from guests who were scammed in recent months by Hiphipstay
 
Penelope

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

Level 10

Coincidentally (or maybe not).. around the very same time as Airbnb had just reinstated Hiphipstay on the platform (in Jan/Feb of this year), a host from Dublin was openly asking serious questions here on the CC of Airbnb and of Laura Chambers - then Global Head of Core Hosts - about whether or not Airbnb would ever knowingly reinstate a fraudulent scamming host that had been repeatedly reported to them by both neighbours and the media (link below) 

 

False Reviews/Fake Profiles/Fraudulent Hosts - Airbnb Community
https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Help/False-Reviews-Fake-Profiles-Fraudulent-Hosts/td-p/1238322

 

Even more coincidentally (or maybe not), the scamming host (Hiphipstay) exposed in the Dublin Inquirer article was apparently quite popular with Airbnb, and had a number of reviews from Airbnb staffers. Including a glowing review in late 2018 from Laura Chambers herself, who inexplicably chose to stay at one of Hiphipstay's "Pro" listings on her Airbnb business trip to Dublin, rather than book with one of the small local "core" hosts who she was supposedly hired to represent and "help succeed"

 

 "5 Star" was the "host" name that the Hiphipstay profile was operating under at the time of Laura's stay (although the profile has also had several other names during its 5 year run on the platform, including "Dublin Bnb" and "Will", and had again changed from Hiphipstay to "Rob" when Airbnb reinstated it in January, following their "investigation". All the various names used on the profile proudly displayed the Verified ID badge. 

 

Intriguingly, Hiphipstay somehow even managed to add half a dozen listings to their account during their "suspension" period too. Fascinating, the facilities some hosts seem to have on their accounts. Clearly, Airbnb has a lot more tolerance for some "bad actors", than for others.

 

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Penelope

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

in
Kendal, United Kingdom
Level 10

@Super47 

 

Interesting read...

 

All that ^^ against the backcloth of Homestay hosts having their listings suspended without notification and their bookings cancelled and removed. It's amazing how easily negative reviews can be removed from larger operators listings - a complete contrast to the many hosts who have been subject to those retaliatory reviews and get no support.

 

Two posts I saw recently: This from @Joe-and-Tara0  https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Guest-sneaking-dog-into-house/m-p/1345872/highlight/true... struggling with a guest who blatantly defied house rules with no support - and another involving blatant drug use.. These are 'Learned Behaviour' by guests fully encouraged by Airbnb with their lack of control and inadequately supporting hosts in administering their house rules effectively.

 

All hosts need to be treated fairly and equally. That information provided @Super47 illustrates how the pledge for greater transparency still continues to fail on an epic scale. Just one of the many failed promises, yet the management still feel the need to ask "What's wrong?" !

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

Level 10

@Ian-And-Anne-Marie0

 

The real issue here isn't just about hosts not being treated equally, or fairly - this is about small hosts and homesharers being forced out of business by the likes of Domio, and Hiphipstay, and hordes of other shady operators now spreading like a plague through all markets - who for whatever reasons, appear to be given free reign by Airbnb to carry right on breaking every rule (and law) in the book. And even when they're caught red-handed - and exposed by the media - Airbnb seems strangely unwilling to kick them off the platform. Shouldn't we all be demanding to know why, exactly, that might be? 

 

The problem is, small hosts and homesharers think that this is not something that's happening in their towns and cities, and it can't possibly affect them. They couldn't be more wrong, sadly, and even if it hasn't affected them yet, it very soon will. 

 

Let's take Nashville as just one example. A thriving tourist destination and one of Airbnb's most profitable cities in the US, a market with stunning year on year growth since around 2015. Yet according to data analytics firm Airdna, just 7% of Airbnb listings in Nashville - or 436 of 6696 rentals - are currently offered by homesharers. (8% pre-covid). There was a time, not so very long ago, when homesharers in any city you cared to look at, typically hosted around 50% of  available listings - and often more. 

 

So how can homesharers only account for 7% of listings in Nashville now? Well I guess only Airbnb knows the full truth of that, but what we do know is this - the city has been flooded with listings from your Sonders, Stay Alfreds, Domios and swarms of other Sonder- and Domio-wannabe get-rich-quick arbitrage merchants (many of whom haven't the first clue about business or hospitality - and couldn't care two hoots about ethical or even legal hosting - but are all clamouring to ride the crest of that lucrative Airbnb wave. 

 

Another prolific player in Nashville has been mega-host Lyric, in which Airbnb itself led a $160 million funding round in April 2019. The firm's CEO and Co-founder, Andrew Kitchell proudly informed Bloomberg last year that Lyric was the first company to receive a short-term rental permit in Nashville and has partnerships with 20 of America's top Real Estate firms. Interestingly, around the very same time as Lyric were given their green light, scores of small local hosts were being forced into a bitter legal battle with the city, after having their own short term rental permits abruptly rescinded. Metro Nashville government was later found guilty of contempt of court for continuing to send violation notices to hosts who were appealing the city's revocation of their permits. 

 

Another big player in Nashville has been the 348 unit "Niido powered by Airbnb" complex, in which Airbnb partnered with Newgard Developments to allow tenants to rent out their homes on Airbnb, with a 25% cut of the proceeds going to management, on top of Airbnb's usual fees. Let's just say the project hasn't exactly been a roaring success, with pre-existing residents saying that they felt "blindsided by living in a giant Airbnb", and constant complaints ranging from vandalism to burglary to antisocial behaviour being levelled against the endless stream of Airbnb guests. 

See for yourselves - 

https://www.apartmentratings.com/tn/nashville/nido-nashville_9199332346275175846/u-3908384/

 

So it does appear that Airbnb and their privileged partners were freely permitted to help themselves to a sizeable slice of the juicy Nashville pie, while the city bosses were apparently going all out to shut down many not-so-fortunate or lavishly-funded small local hosts. Some may view that as Airbnb cannibalising iits own market - some may not. But that paltry 7% homesharers figure sure speaks for itself. 

 

Penelope

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

Level 10

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Penelope

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

in
Chicago, IL
Level 10

@Super47 lots of interesting reading for me tonight! Thank you for posting

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

Level 10

You're welcome @Inna22. There are lots of similar stories/articles about large-scale scamming hosts in this link below that I posted in a comment above too. 

 

False Reviews/Fake Profiles/Fraudulent Hosts - Airbnb Community
https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Help/False-Reviews-Fake-Profiles-Fraudulent-Hosts/td-p/1238322

 

And the more you read of these stories - and of the way Airbnb deals (or doesn't deal) with a certain genre of host - the more you start to realise that there are two very, very different versions of Airbnb. 

 

It's fascinating to observe these "hosts" stunning trajectory too (and the patterns are the same, in every instance) - from starting off as small, local outfits with maybe just a few dozen properties (like Hiphipstay), right through the scale to becoming superstar megahosts hoovering up hundreds/thousands of listings (like Domio). Despite invariably having truly shocking track records, horrendous reputations and scant regard for the local laws that everyone else has to abide by, these shady operators still manage to attract hundreds of millions in VC, property developer and speculator funding, and morph into dominant regional, national and international players, who control vast swathes of every market in which they ply their trades. 

 

The spawn of Airbnb, I guess you could call them. 

Penelope

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

Level 10

@Inna22 @Ian-And-Anne-Marie0 @Sharon1014 

 

Well even for a hardened cynic like me, this is jaw-dropping. Admittedly, there was never a doubt in my mind that Airbnb would eventually reinstate Domio (the shady mega-host from my OP in this thread - whose extensive history of operating illegal listings, running "party houses", engaging in fraudulent activities and various other egregious business practices was recently exposed by investigative reporter Paris Martineau of The Information). But I never thought for one second that Airbnb would be arrogant and reckless enough to permit them to go live again until the IPO was safely out of the way, and the dust had settled. To everyone's great disgust though (well, everyone with an ounce of morals and decency in them) - after just 3 weeks 'suspension' Domio and their thousands of listings will be back in action, bold as brass, living it large on the Airbnb platform again from tomorrow. 

 

Meanwhile, small hosts continue to live in constant terror of being arbitrarily suspended, ghosted or delisted on foot of a single false or defamatory claim any vindictive guest may concoct or fabricate about them. It's a funny old world. 

 

If the reinstatement of this proven fraudster mega-host doesn't open everyone's eyes to what Airbnb is really all about, and what their 'values' and 'ethics' truly are, then I honestly don't know what will..

 

Even the seasoned media hacks are shocked. Tweets below from Dennis Schaal, founding editor of Skift..

 

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Penelope

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

in
Chicago, IL
Level 10

@Super47 this is shocking

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

in
Sellicks Beach, Australia
Level 10

@Super47   It may be time to hive the business into two separate divisions.  So much of this debate is in the interpretation of the wording "home-sharing".  I certainly wouldn't want professional property managers per Andrew McConnell's take on things, but much prefer a local host who is available if needed.  Which isn't to say I would want to share a house with other people as in book a private room in someone else' home, but I would like to know that the property I booked did have an active local host who was immediately available and nearby if required.

 

It could be argued that there is sufficient scope for some enterprising person to provide an alternative vehicle/platform specifically catering to guests wanting that local connection.  Leave Airbnb to it's mega monopoly players, remote / non-existent property managers, and string of bad press.

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

Level 10

@Sharon1014 

The irony is, Airbnb has been running with the hare and hunting with the hound for at least 5 years now - selling their brand on their small, independent host/"live like a local" image, while at the same time, quietly and stealthily building up a gargantuan empire of professionally-managed listings behind the scenes (and somehow - unbelievably, really - keeping the mammoth scale of the 'professionalisation' of the platform a pretty well-kept secret)

 

In 2019 alone, pro listings skyrocketed by 36%, at 3 times the rate of private rooms. (As mentioned previously, private room listings in pro-dominated cities like Nashville for example have plunged to 7%, Paris to 9%, and that pattern is being repeated all over the world) 

 

Yet now, after years of surreptitiously favouring and promoting pro hosts over home hosts and pushing us further and further out of the game, they once again want to sell their brand on us - this time, to get their IPO over the line. (Let's face it, we're the only USP they've got) Problem is though, a great many small hosts are finally waking up to the fact they're just being used as a front for the company's real operations, and may not be quite so willing to shore up Airbnb's "back to our roots" facade and/or to be played like pawns in the IPO game anymore. 

 

A rather observant and prescient Business Insider piece, from as far back as 2015, casting doubt on Airbnb's true intentions.. 

 

"All of this revealed to me a “credibility gap” between the company’s public face and reality" 

 

The two faces of Airbnb - Business Insider
https://www.businessinsider.com/the-two-faces-of-airbnb-2015-10

 

Penelope

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

in
Sellicks Beach, Australia
Level 10

@Super47   Well, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is likely already across many of the issues related to Airbnb.  But I think an email or two from local hosts just to reinforce any misrepresentation in the prospectus is warranted.

 

Here's the link to submit a concern - https://www.sec.gov/whistleblower.  And they even pay whistleblowers (handsomely) for tips that lead to prosecution and fines, $1.8 million to one and $750k to another just this last week  https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-225

 

That article was an interesting read.  Much as I'd like to think that things have improved since that was written in 2015, it maybe (definitely?) hasn't (aka Domio et al, failure to comply with EU directives etc).

 

The big player issues are less of a concern for small time non-urban seasonal hosts like myself, but it does irk me that my guests are funding ABB's damage control via the high booking fees they pay.

 

Worse, that the company may it seems, be looking to market itself to potential investors as a "home-sharing" platform, when in fact, it seems that somewhere between 60-80% of their business is actually derived from large-scale property managers who are definitely not "sharing their homes".  That really qualifies as false and misleading and is an offence under SEC law.

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

Level 10

@Sharon1014

The SEC has already been flooded with submissions, complaints and tips from interested parties and unfortunately, the sort of original specialised, detailed Insider information and material evidence they'd require that would result in Whistleblower awards, is certainly not be the sort of info that regular platform users would be privy to. If only it were that easy! 🙂 

 

I've just posted in another thread about a 3-page letter that was already sent to the SEC on the 18/9 by a coalition of over 40 housing groups from all over the world, on the subject of Airbnb's truth and transparency re. the home-sharing/property management company divide. 

 

"The big player issues are less of a concern for small time non-urban seasonal hosts like myself.."

Not at all, sadly. The Pros have long since bled most grossly over-saturated urban markets dry, and have moved on now to do the same in secondary and tertiary resort and even some rural locations. Their tentacles reach far and wide. 

Penelope

Re: Fraudulent Activities, Illegal Listings - Why Was This Mega-host Not Banned Immediately?

Level 10

Link to post containing the letter that was sent to the SEC by the 40+ housing groups, citing credibility issues and urging the Securities and Exchange Commission to demand full disclosure re financial, risk and regulatory matters and the true scale of the 'professionalisation' of the platform.

 

Airbnb IPO Launch - Host Wishlist - 
https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Help/Airbnb-IPO-Launch-Host-Wishlist-What-do-hosts-want-fixed/td...

 

 

Penelope
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