As the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to die down and promising vaccines are being distributed, many people are starting to make their travel plans for the summer. That means flights will be selling out, hotel rooms will be booked, and we will see the return of Airbnb listings all over the web. This new take on the idea of a bed and breakfast was taking off before the pandemic and is sure to see a resurgence.
Some travelers are skittish about staying at another person’s home or apartment due to the uniqueness of the situation and the strange feeling that can come out of seeing someone else’s belongings in your room. While these objections can be overcome, having your personal information stolen by cybercriminals during your stay may convince you never to use Airbnb again. There has been a rise in the number of scams and crimes as of late, and protection is key.
Here are some steps to ensure that your next stay is safe and secure.
Be Cautious of Information You Share
It is important to be aware of the problems that can arise if a cybercriminal gets their hands on your private information. Almost any form of data can be used for malicious purposes. Social security numbers can be used to take out fraudulent loans that could put you into bankruptcy, credit card numbers can be used to make fraudulent purchases, and even email addresses can be instrumental in sending phishing emails. The point is that you want to be cautious whenever you give out any aspect of your personal information.
The vigilance needed starts even before you book your Airbnb. Recently, there have been some fake renting scams online that promise an incredible getaway that is almost too good to pass up. The listing asks for the customer’s personal information so they can reserve the spot; however, right before it is time for your stay, the scammer says that the rental is no longer available.
At this point you are left with nothing and the criminals have your data as well as any money you paid upfront. To protect yourself from these dangers, always complete a comprehensive investigation of the listing by reading reviews and checking the host’s profile to ensure that they have accurate contact information. You should also never pay with cash. A debit or credit card can be declined or marked as fraud but any cash you spend with a cybercriminal will be as good as gone.
When ironing out the details with a host, make sure all communication is through the messaging system on the Airbnb website. All messages are saved so you can make a case if you feel you were robbed or misled. The best thing is that the website is encrypted so when a tech company collects your information such as your credit card number and your email address, you know it is protected even if the criminals can infiltrate their system. Unless you are expecting it, do not open any attachments in emails that you get from the “host” as this could be a phishing scam. If you have any questions, contact the company directly.
Dangers of Wi-Fi
Since the internet is part of our everyday lives, you are going to want to use it while on vacation as well; however, caution is necessary, especially when connecting over Wi-Fi. There are many scams associated with this network connection, including man-in-the-middle attacks. This is where a cybercriminal can set up a seemingly free network and give it an enticing name or a name that looks to be the real deal. The user then connects to the network, but what they are really connecting to is the bad actor’s computer.
Caution is always required when using foreign Wi-Fi, and you can protect yourself and your data by being vigilant about security on your device. It is a smart idea to install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your phone. By doing so, you will encrypt your data and disguise your location so you cannot be found and your data cannot be stolen.
Another idea is to avoid using untested Wi-Fi altogether by creating a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. This is a device that you can purchase from your phone carrier that allows you to set up a network anywhere and surf the web and use your apps with ease. Take this hotspot everywhere, even when you leave the rental. This way you are always protected and leave nothing to chance.
What Airbnb Owners Can Do
When it comes to renting out your house or apartment, security should be the top priority, both online and with the physical space that you provide. That means keeping a well-kept home free of hazards, ensuring that your smoke detectors are in good working order, and creating an exit plan for guests in case of an emergency. For the best all-around security, it is a smart idea to get to know your neighbors by attending association meetings and community events. When people know you personally, they are generally less likely to try and cause you harm.
It is important to understand just how easy it is for bad actors to manipulate your router and infect it with malware and spyware. Often, it usually only requires a press of the reset button, and a criminal can manipulate the router settings to make it possible to infiltrate the devices of future guests that connect to the network. That is why it is a responsible idea to run antivirus software on your devices after each guest completes their stay so that you can detect any malware and rid your system of it immediately.
Also, all the equipment and technology in the home, from the Google speakers to your smart thermostat, should be updated with the latest system upgrades. If you fail to keep your tech up to speed, cybercriminals can find vulnerabilities in the old software and use it to infect any of the other devices connected to the network. As an Airbnb host, you should mention these security features in your advertisement. These perks, along with other great information, like local restaurant lists and mentions of your ambient lighting can separate your home from the herd and get you more guests.
Everyone is excited about returning to activities we enjoyed before COVID-19; however, caution is still necessary. By understanding common Airbnb cybersecurity concerns and while on the road, you can have fun and keep your family protected.