As more people are vaccinated, airline travel is up, and trips are being planned again. But if those plans include a vacation home rental, one local couple has a big warning for you.
Trish and Steven Aquilino have owned their Valley home for more than a decade. In March of this year, the couple says they had visitors with luggage coming to their door, but they weren't expecting anyone.
"It seemed odd. They stayed for a minute and then left. We thought, okay maybe they got the wrong house," Trish says.
It was just the beginning. The couple says for nearly two weeks, people showed up with their bags and rang their doorbell every night.
"You never knew when to expect it. It could be 7 o'clock at night or one or two in the morning," Steve says.
Turns out, someone listed their home on Airbnb as a rental property using fake pictures but sending people to their real address.
"It was very disconcerting because we had this constant barrage of travelers showing up at our door and we never knew if they were going to be upset with us and damage our property," Trish says.
The couple tried not to interact, turning the lights off early each night and making sure the curtains were pulled.
"We put up a sign that says, 'This is not an Airbnb. You've been scammed. Please report it to Airbnb,'" Steven says.
The Aquilinos eventually got access to the listing and the name of the fake host, Kanika.
"I tried sending a message to the host through Airbnb saying, 'You're using our house. That's fraud. Stop doing it.' I never got a response," Trish says.
The Aquilinos also say they got no help from Airbnb and that the fake listing remained up day after day.
"We contacted them many times on the site. You can flag listings. Airbnb actually did not step in to our knowledge. They actively didn't do anything," they say.
We contacted Airbnb about what happened.
In a statement, Airbnb says, "Fake or misrepresented listings are rare and have no place in our community. These listings were removed in March, and our team is working hard to constantly strengthen our defenses and stay ahead of fraudsters... We have banned the host from the platform entirely."
But Airbnb didn't answer our bigger questions -- How could this happen? Why isn't there a system in place to guarantee the person listing a vacation rental can actually rent it out?
"There's no process with Airbnb or VRBO that vets that person to make sure it's a legitimate listing or that you're the owner," says Ric Kenworthy.
Kenworthy is with Old Town Rental in Scottsdale and currently lists about 30 properties on Airbnb.
He says he has seen his legitimate listings copied and posted on Craigslist by scammers seeking deposits.
But he says he's had no similar issues on Airbnb so far.
"The more you think about how easy it would be to do, it's crazy," he says.
While Airbnb and the popular rental site VRBO verify lister IDs, ask for addresses, and more, Kenworthy says neither do what a site like Booking.com does.
That site sends a code to the address listed that must be entered online.
"So, they verify it's a real person and you have access to the mail at least," Kenworthy says.
Airbnb says, "Hosts agreed to abide by Airbnb's Community Standards which prohibits the use of someone's property without permission."
They say they do give full refunds in certain cases and that hosts don't receive full payments "until 24 hours after their guests successfully check in, which helps to disincentive this type of behavior."
VRBO says in part, "there are stringent checks in place to validate listings and prevent fraud. We continually evolve our investment in technology and resources to help identify and eliminate fraudulent activity... Any unauthorized listing of a property on our site is a violation."
Before booking your next rental, protect yourself.
Make sure to check prices for comparable listings and be wary of those that are well below the average.
The Aquilinos' fake house listing went for $129 a night, far below others during Spring Training season.
Read reviews thoroughly. Host Kanika's are mostly all negative.
Look for hosts with good histories. They are called "Superhosts" on Airbnb and "Premier" hosts on VRBO.
The Aquilinos say after their experience, they likely won't be using similar sites.
But they advise all travelers to "make sure what the site was going to do if there was a dispute between me and the host."