Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
Earlier this year, a Toronto man named Matthew Lyn readied his apartment to host a family who had booked their stay on the popular Airbnb website.
After they missed their scheduled arrival, Matthew decided to purchase some food and wine for them as a welcome gift for when they finally arrived. When he returned to his apartment with his offering, Matthew realized his guests had already come and gone.
The people he had graciously given access to his apartment had robbed him. They stole an iPad, two iPhones, a Nintendo Wii video game console, several articles of expensive designer clothing, memory cards, professional cameras and a drone. In addition, other, less valuable items including groceries, alcohol and toiletries were also taken. All totaled, the thieves made off with about $21,000 worth of items.
Since he had only communicated with his guests through the Airbnb website, he had little information to provide authorities. Even though his guests had positive reviews on Airbnb’s website, clearly they were criminals using the app to select their victims. According to Airbnb, experiences like this are rare and they are working with local authorities to track down these criminals.
Make Yourself at Home
As we get further into the holiday season, lots of people will be using these hospitality websites — both as a host and as a guest. As shown in the example above, if you choose to welcome strangers into your home, you should take some extra security steps to stay safe. Consider the following:
- Add smart locks. If you own a rental property or regularly host out-of-town guests, I recommend installing smart locks for security and monitoring purposes. You can buy smart locks that unlock and lock remotely, open with an access code you can change for each guest and send you real-time alerts whenever guests come and go. Smart locks allow you to keep tabs on not only who enters your property — but when
- Install video cameras. To be clear, I only recommend installing cameras on the exterior of your property if you are hosting guests. Of course, you should follow all privacy laws and give your guests privacy when they are inside the property. However, there is nothing wrong with monitoring what occurs outside, so I highly recommend installing cameras at every entry point of your home. You also might want to consider one of these video doorbells
- Meet your guests and check IDs. If you live near the place you are renting out, I suggest meeting your guests upon arrival. Not only is this a great way to make them feel welcome, but a subtle way to get a feel for them. In other words, hopefully you’ll be able to tell if they are criminals or regular guests — and trust your instincts. This would also be a good time to verify they are who they say they are by checking and making copies of their IDs. That way if something does happen, it will be easier to track them down.
Now, if you plan to stay somewhere you booked using one of these online hospitality services, here are some precautions you should take before you sleep in a stranger’s house:
- Call the host. I realize many people prefer to book online because they won’t have to talk to anyone to make their reservations. That being said, I recommend calling the host and going over any questions or concerns you have about the property you are interested in booking. By talking to someone on the phone, you can get a feel for them and make sure they are someone you are comfortable with. If you get a bad feeling or weird vibe from talking to the host, you should obviously look for another place to stay
- Conduct your own background check. Once you have the name(s) of your hosts, you should do a little digging. You can easily look them up on Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media platforms. Even a simple Google search could reveal information about your potential hosts. The fact is people share a lot about themselves on social media and you might see something about the hosts you don’t like. Doing this before you book will give you time to look for another place where you are more comfortable with your hosts. Plus, a quick search takes less than 10 minutes and is well worth the time
- Have a backup plan. I recently had a family member book a reservation for a home using Airbnb. Right before his trip, he was informed that the hosts had sold the house and his reservation had been canceled. Obviously, something like this can be inconvenient and it may be difficult to find alternative lodging at the last second. This is why you should always have in mind a backup place to stay, such as a hotel or nearby bed and breakfast.
As a matter of convenience, more and more people are booking reservations using online hospitality services. And more people are choosing to host because of the potential income.
Unfortunately, anytime you are dealing with people you truly don’t know, there are risks involved, which is why you must take the necessary precautions. Your belongings — and your life — are far too valuable not to put in the little bit of effort it takes to make yourself safer.