For those who are still unaware of Airbnb, it’s a service that allows regular people to rent out their houses to other regular people by the night — basically turning their home into a hotel. Airbnb says, “On any given night, 2 million people stay in homes on Airbnb in 65,000 cities all over the world. There are more than 4 million listings in 191 countries to choose from.”

Those 4 million listings are largely unregulated — other than by normal business, tax, and zoning laws — and offer little in the way of consumer protections, beyond, they say, refunds for very specific reasons (the host doesn’t provide reasonable access, the listing isn’t as described, or there’s an animal there that wasn’t disclosed).

Airbnb says the entire experience is built on trust (along with risk analytics, watchlist and background checks, emergency preparedness, secure payments, account protection, and scam prevention). But trust isn’t enough to keep you, your money, and your loved ones safe. Here are some ways to assure your protections when you use Airbnb.

Read The Reviews

It seems like the obvious first step, but you’d be surprised. If you scroll to the bottom of every property listing, you should see a list of reviews. Read them. Guests are supposed to leave honest, detailed reviews about their stay on the site — that’s the only way the site can operate. The more good reviews a place has, the better off you are staying there.

It should also tell you if the owner has other properties. View them. Make sure they’re decent, that none of the reviews claim the owner misrepresented things, and that there are no reasonable complaints.

Find A Reliable Host

Here’s Nathan and Becky, a Lancaster County, Pa. couple with 4 listings — they’re in deep with this Airbnb thing, which is good: a significant investment on their part means they’ll probably take the time and energy to make sure you have a good stay. They’re in this for the long haul, not the quick cash. You want hosts who are in this for the long haul. Nathan and Becky are verified, which means that they had to submit information about their online identity (LinkedIn, Facebook) and assure that it matched their offline identity (driver’s license, etc.). Airbnb rolled this out in 2013, and it’s unclear if it applies to all guests and hosts now, or just some of them. Either way, it’s an extra layer of assurance that these people are who they say they are.

Nathan and Becky have also been named Superhosts, which means that they have at least 10 trips to their listings in a year; get 80 percent 5-star reviews; rarely cancel on guests; respond faster and “maintain a 90 percent response rate or higher.” Nathan and Becky, for example, have a response time listed “within an hour.” They also have been with Airbnb since 2015.

Look For Red Flags

Be wary of properties with no reviews and hosts with no reviews. You want someone else to tell you these people are reliable — you don’t want to be the test subject for a brand new Airbnb host. For example, another couple I found joined Airbnb in 2018. Their home is listed as “NEW!” and they have no reviews. This couple only has a phone number and email address listed, and they aren’t “verified.” These people might be great, and someone has to be the first guest — but it’s probably best to wait and see.

Investigate The Neighborhood — And Ask About Security

Make sure you ask about the safety of the neighborhood — and do your own research —before you make your reservation. A lovely room or home might not seem so wonderful if it’s in the middle of an unsafe area. Double check that the house locks are in working order, that the windows lock, and that, preferably, there’s a security system in place. (We here at Security Baron would prefer a safe as well, but you can’t have everything.)

Communicate Through Airbnb Only

The easiest way for scammers to get their scamming on is to pull you off-site, where you don’t have the same protections and verifications that you do on the Airbnb site. If they try to do this, it’s a red flag that should stop your transaction right away.

Too Good To Be True

If you find a house renting for $100 a night when all the similar houses around it are renting for $250, you need to ask yourself why. And that answer is probably something you don’t want to deal with. At least, it’s best to assume it is and move on, rather than have to deal with the hell that comes with arriving in a strange city and finding any number of issues, from a vermin issue to….

Check For Cameras

Hidden cameras are a major fear for Airbnb guests, and it’s not completely irrational. Cameras can now look like any normal household object, so the best advice is the one New York Magazine gives: Be aware of your surroundings. “Check to see if anything looks out of place — like a smoke alarm directly over the bed, or a motion detector in only one room — and go from there.”

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