The success of Airbnb has changed the vacation rental landscape. However, like many services in the gig economy, Airbnb has also attracted dangerous individuals. Abusive predators have used the platform to gain access to victims. In some cases, these predators have killed their victims.
Airbnb has attempted to improve safety by adding background checks to the vetting process. But continued physical and sexual assaults in Airbnb rental homes have many wondering if background checks are actually effective.
Airbnb Background Checks
Airbnb uses a third-party service called Inflection Risk Solutions to perform its background checks. The extent of the checks varies based on national and local laws. Airbnb also requires an accurate first name, last name and date of birth. For U.S. residents this information is referenced against several databases:
- Public state and county criminal records
- State and national sex offender registries
Background checks for those living outside the U.S. are more limited. Airbnb attempts to reference criminal records and sex offender registries. However, not all countries have publicly available databases.
The database referenced for all Airbnb Hosts and guests, regardless of nationality, is the Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List (SDN). The SDN is compiled by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It includes known terrorists and narcotics traffickers, as well as individuals and groups “owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries.”
The background check process is not perfect. If Airbnb does not have an accurate first name, last name and date of birth, the search will turn up nothing. Additionally, not every U.S. state makes all criminal records publicly available. Even when Airbnb has accurate information, a dangerous individual with a criminal history can still slip through.
Does Airbnb Do Background Checks On Hosts?
Anyone who creates a Host profile on Airbnb goes through the vetting process. The company performs a background check on Hosts when they login after creating a listing. A check may also be performed after a Host’s listing is booked by a guest, depending on which occurs first. Airbnb only applies these rules to Hosts in the U.S. and India.
Does Airbnb Do Background Checks On Guests?
Airbnb performs background checks on guests 10 days before their scheduled check-in date. This happens later if a guest has reserved a listing within the 10-day window. These rules are also applied only in the U.S. and India.
Host With Felony Record Passed Airbnb Background Check
In 2017, Carole Escaliere booked an Airbnb while visiting Los Angeles. The listing indicated she would share the space with another woman. However, she arrived to find at least seven other men living there.
The men harassed her and made unwanted advances. Escalier called the police after some of the men watched her in the shower.
She later discovered the Airbnb’s Host, Zameer Azam, had a felony record. Azam served 10 years in jail for kidnapping and assaulting the mother of his child. Despite a criminal conviction, Azam passed Airbnb’s background check.
Multiple Airbnb guests have had similar experiences. Often the incident was escalated to physical assault and/or sexual violence. Airbnb has typically denied liability for the attacks, even when the perpetrators’ history of violence should have appeared in a background check.
The company has only recently allowed survivors to file lawsuits. Terms and conditions had previously included a mandatory arbitration clause. Users were forced to settle claims using a third-party mediator (arbitrator). This limited the ability of survivors to hold Airbnb accountable and obtain legal justice.
Does Vrbo Do Background Checks?
Vrbo does not perform background checks on guests or hosts. Instead, they offer a “traveler verification” process.
Guests can choose to verify details including first and last name, address, date of birth and contact information. Hosts can see if a guest is verified before accepting a booking. Host identity is verified as part of creating a host profile.
Airbnb Safety Tips For Hosts & Guests
Airbnb acknowledges the limitations of their vetting process. They recommend Hosts and guests take additional steps to ensure their safety. Victims are never responsible for their own assault. However, following these precautions may help you avoid dangerous situations:
- Check user reviews. Airbnb Hosts and guests can leave reviews after a stay. Make sure there are no previous complaints.
- Confirm their identity. Airbnb asks Hosts and guests to verify their identity with a government ID or their legal name and address. Verification status appears on a user’s profile.
- Communicate. Use the Airbnb messenger to talk to your Host or guest before the booking. Guests can ask questions about the location, and hosts may ask what attracted potential guests to the listing. Look for red flags, including vague or contradictory answers.
- Do independent research. You may want to check public databases to confirm a Host or guest does not have a history of assault. If possible, find them on social media.
- Inform family and friends. Let others know about your plans, whether traveling or hosting.
- Secure your sleeping area and valuables. Hosts should place all valuables in a safe place before guests arrive. If you are a guest, check the bedroom and bathroom for cameras. If possible, lock your bedroom door at night.
- Trust your instincts. If a location you have booked feels unsafe, leave. If you are a Host and a guest is making you feel unsafe, cancel the booking. Your life is not worth a cancellation fee.
- Call the police. If you are in danger or suspect you may be, leave the location and call 911 immediately.
If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault or a serious physical assault, you may have legal rights. Our team of attorneys is here to help you seek justice against predators and the organizations that cover up or ignore your abuse. Learn more about your legal options, the claims process and potential compensation.
Airbnb. (N.D.) Background checks. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
Airbnb. (N.D.) Limitations of background checks. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
Airbnb. (N.D.) Safety tips for interacting with others. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
Airbnb. (N.D.) Verifying your identity. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
Bizzaco, M., Rawes, E. (2021, December 21). How to find hidden cameras in your Airbnb rental. Digital Trends.
Fehely, D. (2017, November 10). Airbnb Hosts Found With Felony Records Despite Background Checks. CBS SF Bay Area.
Sadeghi, M. (2021, March 5). 6 Best Tips for a Foolproof Airbnb Vetting Process. Lodgify.
Walker, B. (2021, November 17). Vrbo vs. Airbnb: How They Stack up for Guests and Hosts. Finance Buzz.
U.S. Department of the Treasury. (2022, March 3). Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List (SDN) Human Readable Lists. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
Vrbo. (N.D.) How does verifying my identity work? Retrieved March 3, 2022.
(2022, February 10). Some claim Airbnb canceled reservations because of inaccurate criminal background checks. WSOC-TV9.