Fake Airbnb listing exposed when strangers show up at family’s home

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 3:36 AM EST
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LOS ANGELES (KCAL/KCBS) - A California family got quite the shock when strangers showed up at their door, saying they had rented their home on Airbnb; the homeowners had never listed it.

The Airbnb listing called the Branch family home a “modern masterpiece,” with the entire villa up for rent for just $450 a night. It sounds too good to be true, and it was.

Jeff Branch owns the home, nestled against the Santa Monica Mountains. He, his wife and children moved in just four months ago. In November, they went out of town and left a pet sitter to watch the house.

“She texted us and said, ‘Did you rent the house out for the weekend?’ We said no. She said, ‘Someone is here who rented the house through Airbnb,’” Branch said.

Confused, Branch went online and found the listing for his home, a listing he didn’t make. It used photos taken when the house was up for sale.

“It got me to really realize just how easy it is for people to do anything online without anybody’s permission,” Branch said.

He immediately messaged and called Airbnb, who said his case would be “escalated to a specialized team.” But Branch says he didn’t hear anything back, and the listing stayed up for weeks.

Just last weekend, another stranger showed up saying she had rented the house on Airbnb.

“I said, ‘I think you’ve been scammed,’” Branch said. “It’s not a comfortable situation when people show up to your house and have seen pictures on the internet and say, ‘I paid for this house.’”

On Airbnb’s website, the listing indicated that the host’s identity was verified. But it’s unclear what the company does to verify the person listing the property actually owns it. Branch says he never heard from Airbnb to verify it.

The host’s profile listed another home that was allegedly in Kern County, but using Google, reporters discovered the home was actually on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles’ Brentwood neighborhood.

KCBS reached out to Airbnb, and within hours, both listings were taken down.

“Until the media speaks up and they could potentially get some bad press, they don’t care,” Branch said.

Airbnb said in a statement that it banned the host from its platform.

“Trust is at the heart of everything we do, and bad actors have no place in the Airbnb community,” said the company in part.

The company also says it does not release funds until after check-in, and it uses software to detect fake listings, which it insists are rare.

Copyright 2021 KCAL/KCBS via CNN Newsource. All rights reserved.