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Vacation rental fraud: the reality of the Airbnb Doll House

Posted by Kiera Davidson on April 22, 2022 · Operators

Since 2007, the hotel industry disruptor, Airbnb, has well and truly fragmented the vacation rental sector. Airbnb caught fire, turning heads in the sphere and growing into the platform we know today. 

But with 6 million active listings worldwide and 4 million+ hosts and counting, how trustworthy can Airbnb truly be?

How do they monitor each and every listing? Do they really check every vacation rental for potential fraud? 

The fraudulent Doll House listing showcased some pretty life-size concerns: is a 6ft water bottle really something you’d see every day?

doll house interior

What is The Doll House?

The Doll House is exactly that… a dolls house. One that features miniature furniture and interior design, but thanks to Youtubers Josh & Archie and a few snaps later, the doll-sized rooms passed all Airbnb checks and became 1 of 6 million active listings on their vacation rental platform! 

An active listing that quickly racked up bookings worth £3,000!

You can check out the process they took to get the dolls house live on Airbnb here.

Did you spot the water bottle? Did you spot the credit card ‘rug’ or even the airpod left on the piano?

man making fraudulent vacation rentals

Awareness of fraudulent activity

In such a rapidly growing industry with a global market size valued at USD $74.64 billion last year (2021) with a compound annual growth rate of 5.3% from 2022 to 2030, the vacation rental industry is one that is susceptible to fraudulent activity. 

Fraudulent hosts and fraudulent listings can be a cause of concern for both property managers and guests. 

The Doll House scandal is proof of just one aspect of fraudulent activity in the industry. An aspect that can not only damage the trust guests have but can damage the reputation and authority of vacation rentals as a whole.

See just how easy it was to create a fraudulent listing on Airbnb.

tiles spelling trust on a table in a vacation rental

The importance of trust

According to Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb,trust on the internet begins with verifying the accuracy of the information on internet platforms’. 

At SUPERHOG, we’d very much agree on the fact that trust can only be built through the comprehensive knowledge, understanding and accuracy of data available. The SUPERHOG AI-supported toolkit allows you to see the big picture.

Our intelligence grid reveals the millions of connections between properties, hosts and guests and surfaces unique insights.

We know trust is a security blanket, without it, you don’t feel safe and you’re questioning whether you should continue. 

In a series of tweets dating back to 2019, Chesky also announced that by December 2020 all hosts and homes will have been reviewed; however, the Doll House scandal still managed to slip through the Airbnb ‘vetting’ process in 2021.

brain chesky tweet about reducing vacation rental fraud

So, what is the reality of Airbnb checks?

The reality of Airbnb checks

Vice News uncovered a pattern of false or misleading property listings on Airbnb. Reaffirming the lack of quality control when it comes to Airbnb checks. 

How does their ‘vetting’ process work?

Firstly, you need to set up an account and wait to be verified (Want to know the true ins and outs of their ‘screening’ process? Check out our blog: does Airbnb do background checks.) 

Now it’s time to list your property:

  1. Choose your listing type: tent, treehouse, yurt, etc
  2. Add your listing address
  3. Choose amenities: hot tub, parking, gym, etc
  4. Does your space have accessibility features?
  5. Add your listing photos
  6. Set up your pricing
  7. Publish your listing
  8. Get ready to host
female host waiting to get verified

The impact on hosts

Although the listing of The Doll House was a youtube experiment, it managed to shed light on how vacation rentals can be easily manipulated on the internet. 

However, fraudulent listings aren’t always dollhouse schemes. In fact, the majority of fraudulent listings come from scammers duplicating listings without the knowledge of the real host. 

Therefore, the impact of these types of fraud in the vacation rental industry doesn’t just affect guests, it’s hosts and property managers who suffer the consequences too! 

What does this affect?

  • Credibility can be waivered, diminishing the trust guests have with you, your listing, your business and even vacation rentals as a whole.
  • Reviews 
  • Your business revenue
  • Your self-esteem and confidence in your business
  • Stress

The impact on guests

Similarly, guests are affected by fraudulent listings:

  • Trust in the vacation rental industry can be stripped away
  • Worried to use online booking platforms
  • One bad experience can affect the guests’ views for the foreseeable future. This can also lead to bad word of mouth, impacting the host, property manager, platform and industry
  • Mental health can be negatively impacted
  • Loss of money

The solutions available

Vacation rental fraud is not to be taken lightly. Yes, it can be rare but it could also happen to anyone. 

We all know a great photo sells better than lower-quality images. Make sure you watermark or copyright your images so that you reduce the risk of fraudulent listing duplications.

If you’re booking direct, ensure the website is ‘safe’ and ‘trusted’ – a padlock icon will display to the left of the website’s URL.

You can also introduce risk management strategies, like SUPERHOG, to verify your status as a legitimate host, and our guest membership allows you to request verifications from the hosts that you book with.

Our comprehensive solutions are globally accessible, designed for seamless integration, increases booking confidence and provides unmatched protection in the vacation rental industry.