Airbnb Guest Privacy Misdeeds & What You Can Do to Protect Yourself [2024]

January 17, 2024
·
3 min
deleteme

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There is no shortage of Airbnb nightmares to choose from–especially when it comes to an invasion of privacy. In fact, hosts walking in unannounced, hidden bathroom cameras, hosts demanding passport details, and the abuse of personal phone numbers are among some of the most prevalent Airbnb guest privacy mis[deeds]. 

Unfortunately, the short-term rental giant still relies on the submission of extremely personal information to verify both guests and hosts, such as personal phone numbers, to both parties. This can be great for communication, but a nightmare when abused. And, Airbnb isn’t always a huge help when abuse is reported – leaving many upset guests and hosts to fight to reclaim their privacy on their own.

Keep reading to learn more about Airbnb privacy nightmares and what you can do to stop yourself from becoming another victim.

Airbnb Privacy Exposure: What All Airbnb Guests Should Know 

Whether it's a weekend getaway or a cross-continent adventure, arm yourself with knowledge that will ensure your peace of mind is as secure as your Airbnb booking.

When Airbnb hosts get hacked

Anyone who has ever gone through the Airbnb set-up knows that the company requires a hefty amount of personally identifiable information (PII). This can include (but definitely isn’t limited to) names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, financial details, driver’s license numbers, and forms of photo identification.

Recently, a hacker who goes by the name of Sheriff came forward, claiming to have obtained PII of around 1.2 million users through a data breach. While this has yet to be substantiated, it could herald a serious problem for both hosts and guests. The outcome could result in mass identity theft, credit card fraud, host impersonation, and other damaging scenarios.

With the sheer amount of data at risk online, it’s no surprise that when a host account gets hacked there can be major problems. But what happens when the problem is coming from INSIDE the house?

In 2020, Airbnb officially announced the containment of an internal-facing issue that exposed the messages and PII of hosts to one another. In addition to this data, some hosts were also sent property addresses, details, and access codes. When they reached out to Airbnb for support, the company simply instructed them to “delete their cookies.”

It was later discovered that the breach was due to a system malfunction and not a bad actor. However, with so many scammers flocking to the site, this could have been a golden opportunity for them to exploit the info they gained access to. And, it still caused many hosts to have to update property access methods to ensure that guests would be safe during their stays.

Tips for avoiding Airbnb privacy problems like these: 

  • Control what info you share with your Airbnb account.
  • Be fully aware of what PII the host (or guest) may be able to see after the booking is confirmed. 
  • Only provide the least amount of information necessary to access the platform.

To take your protection a step further, use Cloaked to create your Airbnb account, and to update your contact details for every new host you need to contact for your stays. You can create, share, and save real working phone numbers, emails, passwords, and more. 

This allows seamless communication, while still protecting your personal information from hosts and/or bad actors seeking to misuse your information.  

Airbnb host

With Cloaked, there’s no need to share sensitive account information through texts or emails, you can share identities and more through your encrypted server. You can use them in any situation where someone is asking for your personal information–not just Airbnb. 

Learn more about Cloaked 

Doxing because of a bad Airbnb review

AirBnb review

Doxing is the act of exposing someone’s personal information publicly, usually with the intent of causing them physical or emotional harm. It’s also used as an intimidation technique to virtually blackmail someone by threatening to expose their personal info along with something they may or may not have actually done.

Regardless of the reasoning, doxing is a nasty form of bullying that has resulted in criminal charges in the past. And, because of the exposure of your personal info to Airbnb hosts (specifically your personal phone number), it has been a real problem.

While there are several newer accounts of hosts doxing guests (and vice versa), we wanted to share a particularly wild one from 2018: 

The guest arrived to find the property located in an area that was “not as advertised.” The code the host had provided for the door wasn’t working, so she approached the owners to get a new code. 

Naturally, these owners were less than helpful. In fact, they became slightly hostile when the guest continued to insist that the code she was given did not work. Finally, exhausted and ready to turn in, the guest made it into the unit… where she quickly discovered that she’d be sharing the space with a wide variety of cockroaches.

She claimed that they were scurrying away any time that a light was turned on and that she discovered other issues with cleanliness once inside the property. The guest took these concerns back to the host, who did offer to clean the unit again, but was otherwise unapologetic. 

So, the guest did what any sane person (who had the funds) would probably do. She ditched the Airbnb and found a hotel. Problem solved, right? Wrong.

The guest requested a refund from the host because she had only been in the unit for about five minutes. The host refused. Not knowing what else to do, the guest took the only action she could: she wrote a negative review.

This is where it gets dicey. Instead of taking the review as constructive criticism or just ignoring it outright, the host decided to reply. In the reply, the host refuted all of the negative points made by the guest… and then took it a step further.

The host posted all of the guest’s personal information, including phone number, home address, and even their place of work. And, due to the Airbnb review policy, they refused to remove the information from the public site.

This may seem a little extreme, but it really only demonstrates one of the many ways that PII can be abused by anyone listing or staying in a property. Others have claimed that hosts stalked their social media accounts and harassed them via private messages, or that they used the information to continue texting them long after the stay had ended.

Tips for avoiding Airbnb privacy problems like these: 

One of the easiest (and only ways) to prevent this is by not using your personal email addresses and phone numbers when booking on Airbnb. But, not many of us have extra, secure online identities lying around. 

The solution? Cloaked. You can use Cloaked to create a new phone number in the Airbnb system for every new stay. When you check out, just delete the number and/or identity that goes with that number. It cannot be used to expose your information and if part of a data breach or fraud, it won’t impact you.

AirBnb login page

Click here to read our article on using Cloaked to sign up for your Airbnb account, and here to read about how to use it to keep your phone number unique to each new interaction.

Hosts that want a few too many “verification” details

Newer account users have reported hosts requesting additional documentation to prove identity. In some cases, they’ve requested passport numbers, copies of social security cards, and proof of a guest’s home address. None of this is necessary for the platform to work as it should and are all red flags for anyone looking to book a stay.

Identity theft is rampant with the influx of data breaches this year. And any time that you’re being asked to share more information than what is requested in a platform’s privacy policy, you should adopt an attitude of extreme caution.

Scammers have started targeting rental platforms as a way to steal money from those who believe they are booking on a legit site, and as a source of personal information that could give them access to important accounts.

Short-term rental platforms weren’t all made with privacy in mind. 

Tips for avoiding an Airbnb privacy problem like this:

  • Take the time to read through each platform’s privacy and data collection policies
  • Note the information that they collect during the booking process, and look for any policies that may require further info once the booking is complete. 
  • When in doubt–don’t share your personal info. Contact the platform’s support team and get clarification of what’s needed to verify your identity. 
  • If the host is requesting too much, make sure to report them.

Hackers create spoof accounts and collect as much personal info (and money) as possible.

Hackers have learned that short-term rental platforms like Airbnb are absolute treasure troves of PII. Using this type of data, they can steal identities, access bank accounts, commit credit card fraud, and orchestrate phishing attacks. 

It’s easy for someone who has access to your social security number, birth date, and family information to bypass security protocols on most accounts. And it’s difficult to report and recover from these types of crimes when they go unnoticed for any significant length of time.

In addition to harvesting PII, criminals also use host information to impersonate them, listing fake properties and making them look official by using the host’s existing credibility. These scammers push customers to go off-site to complete their payments to reserve properties. 

Oftentimes, they cite “cleaning fees” or other fees, indicating that paying the host directly will be cheaper and easier. Doing so allows them to instantly access the money without having to wait on Airbnb’s payout policy.

Once this happens, they collect the money and disappear. Sometimes, when a host’s identity has been stolen to perpetrate this scheme, it can cause damage to their reputation - making it difficult for them to recover. 

Or, platforms may shut the hosting account down entirely, forcing hosts to find other ways to list their rental properties.

Tips for avoiding Airbnb privacy problems like these:

  • Never pay a host off-platform. Yes, cleaning fees and taxes can seem ridiculously expensive, but better to pay for these than risk losing your money altogether. 
  • If a host is asking you to pay outside of the platform, make sure that you inform Airbnb customer support so they can prevent it from turning into a much bigger issue.

Protect your privacy on Airbnb, no matter where you are.

The emergence of Airbnb has revolutionized the way we travel, providing unique accommodations around the world. However, with the digital nature of its services, protecting your personal information is always going to be important. 

Cloaked is the only end-to-end privacy solution that allows you to create new phone numbers, emails, and secure credentials for every new contact. Whether it’s for Airbnb or any other online account–from social media to online dating to banking to online shopping–you never have to worry about giving out your personal info again.

Never leave home without it!

Click here to try Cloaked today–now with 14 days free.

Protect yourself from future breaches

You can try Cloaked for free for 14 days
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