Airbnb is taking over the holiday and rental accommodation industry as fast as online shopping and transport sites are displacing conventional retailing and taxi services, and for the same reasons. Airbnb makes it easier for both sides of the market to do business.
It is easy for those with spare accommodation, even just a room, to offer it for rent, and easy for those seeking accommodation to check it out without visiting it. All they need to do is pay upfront, and there lies their risk.
Last Sunday our front page featured a scam that cost an Auckland woman $5000 when she booked a week's holiday in a house in Whangarei that turned out to be bogus. Today we report the experience of a family from Barcelona who lost $17,000 when an Auckland house they thought they had rented through Airbnb was not available.
The company cannot afford too many of these incidents. It clearly needs better systems to ensure everyone offering accommodation on its site has the property they claim to own.
And it needs to develop a way to automatically jettison any offering that involves payment to or through any agency except itself.
That is how the family from Barcelona were scammed. When they booked the Takapuna house they were told to pay through a Spanish bank account.
That is already against Airbnb's rules but how many users know it?
If they pay through a third party rather than Airbnb they violate its terms and are not eligible for refunds.
The family who lost $17,000 could not have had their full intended stay in New Zealand if they had not been here long enough to have children in school and a community that rallied around them.
It is a story of good neighbours and a helpful real estate agency as well as a failure of online booking.
Airbnb requires those offering accommodation to provide their details, phone numbers, email address and photos. It says it uses "predictive analytics" to detect suspicious activity. Whatever that is, it is not working well enough.
New Zealand's consumer protection officials say they received five inquiries about accommodation scams between August and November. They advise anyone buying accommodation online to be suspicious if they are asked to pay in any way other than directly to Airbnb.
It is simple and good advice. Airbnb is too valuable, both as a source of income for rental property owners and a quick convenient way to find suitable accommodation, for rogues to be allowed to ruin it.