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Police investigate false Airbnb listing in Stouffville

A Stouffville woman has had her home listed on Airbnb without her permission by a user with a profile picture of Hollywood actress Naomi Harris. CITYNEWS

It’s an Airbnb mystery that a Stouffville family can’t seem to solve – one that brings strangers around the world to their door steps.

Christina, who didn’t want to use her last name, says their home address is posted on the hospitality website without their permission.

“In the last month we’ve had eight people come and show up, couples claiming that they rented a room at our house,” she said. “Our address is listed on Airbnb as a place and house for rent for days and a month at a time.”

On Saturday alone, she says a total of four groups knocked on her door claiming to have purchased a stay in her detached home for the weekend – including a pair of two women from France and a couple who had driven down from Pittsburgh at midnight.

The first series of incidents occurred a month ago, when Christina says a man appeared at her doorstep, adamant that he rented out a bedroom through the website.

“The first gentleman that showed up insisted that he was going to be staying here and initially wasn’t inclined to leave,” Christina explained. “He claimed he was staying in town to work at a local place within Stouffville. We did our own little investigation and found out he wasn’t actually training at this place.”

This triggered a series of concerns for the family who had two young kids. They filed a report with York Regional Police right away, and contacted Airbnb about the postings.

Christina also did a search of her address on google and found a listing on the site, but the images weren’t accurate depictions of the interior of the home.

She sent several screen shots to CityNews of what appeared to be different postings on the website. The account holder “Yun” also used a photo of famous actress Naomi Harris on their display.

“There was a number of listings for our home as far as advertising in the United Kingdom to come to Whitchurch-Stouffville,” said Christina. “The first one was a poster for our address and the host had the same name as me, so that was very freaky.”

The mom of two boys says she complained to Airbnb several times and the posts were removed, but as soon as one went down, another one popped up.

Airbnb says these negative experiences are rare.

“Fake or misrepresented listings have no place in our community and we are constantly working to strengthen our defenses and stay ahead of scammers,” Lindsey Scully wrote over email. “We have offered rebooking assistance to the affected guests, removed the listing and banned the user from our platform.”

Scully also says the company has a “multi-layer defense strategy” that flags and stops suspicious activity, and the site also just recently launched new security tools.

Tips for guests from Airbnb:

 

  • Get To Know Your Host & Home in Advance: The Airbnb experience is unique and authentic because you’re booking with a local host. That means every home will be different. We always recommend that guests take advantage of the many tools Airbnb offers to get to know your host (and listing) before you book. Read the host’s detailed profile and listing description thoroughly, including house rules, amenities, and cancellation policy. We also have a safe and easy way for you to get to know your host before booking a reservation through our secure on-platform messaging tool. You can use it to get your questions answered about the home and set clear expectations with the host for your stay.

 

  • Read Previous Community Reviews: In addition to detailed profiles and secure messaging, you always have our global community to rely on. If you’re curious what a previous guest’s experience has been with a potential host, all you need to do is check that host’s reviews ahead of time. Both guests and hosts publicly review each other — and only do so after the reservation is complete — so you know the feedback is informed, unbiased, and real.

 

  • Always Communicate & Pay on Platform. All you need to do to avoid a scam is to stay on our secure Airbnb platform throughout the entire process — from communication, to booking, to payment — and you will be protected. Plus, we never release payment to a host until the guest is safely checked in, and you should never be asked to wire money or pay another user directly. In fact if you are, we advise you to report this behavior to us right away.

 

  • If Anything Isn’t Right, Reach Out! If a guest arrives at a listing and it’s not as advertised, they should immediately reach out to our global Customer Service team for help. They are standing by 24/7 in 11 languages with rebooking assistance, refunds, and/or reimbursements to help make things right in the rare event that things don’t go as planned.

It’s not clear if Christina’s address was randomly selected, but she is speaking up to advocate for stricter security measures to authenticate listings.

“I’m hoping they take our address off Airbnb,” she said. “I’m hoping that maybe this might bring light to something that might be happening.”