S.F. Woman "Violated" by Airbnb Visitors

Categories: Crime, Tech
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A San Francisco woman has come forward with a horrific tale of her experience with local startup Airbnb, an online service that matches travelers with hosts whose homes they can rent for brief periods.

The woman's story -- her apartment was ransacked and burglarized by at least one Airbnb patron while she was out of town -- raises questions about the site's security measures even as Airbnb announced this week that it had raised $112 million from new investors and achieved a $1.3 billion valuation.

In a blog post titled "Violated: A traveler's lost faith, a difficult lesson learned," the woman -- who refers to herself only as EJ, wishing to remain anonymous -- describes what happened while a person known simply to her through Airbnb as "DJ Pattrson" stayed at her place in San Francisco while she was traveling:

They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother's jewelry I had hidden inside. They took my camera, my iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive filled with photos, journals... my entire life. They found my birth certificate and social security card, which I believe they photocopied - using the printer/copier I kindly left out for my guests' use. They rifled through all my drawers, wore my shoes and clothes, and left my clothing crumpled up in a pile of wet, mildewing towels on the closet floor...

They did weird stuff too: moving things around in a spooky, psychotic kind of way - creepy little things that I am still discovering as I dig through the wreckage - like cutting the tags off my pillows, and hanging a painting of Paris on the wall that I had never hung before... probably while wearing my now-missing Ugg boots and Roots cap.

San Francisco police investigators are looking into the incident.

Airbnb cofounder Brian Chesky said in a statement that he was "shocked" by the crime. "We have been working closely with the authorities, and we want to reassure our community that, with the help of our security infrastructure, we were able to assist the police in their investigation, and we understand from authorities that a suspect is now in custody," he said.

In her blog post, victim EJ asserted that Airbnb's rules are partly to blame for what happened. Hosts and renters get access to each other's personal contact information only once they have finalized a transaction. (By contrast, people who seek a similar arrangement via Craigslist can trade information at any point, and, in theory, vet each other more thoroughly ahead of time.)

Some believe that Airbnb's rules are intended to prevent people from doing side deals that deprive the site of its transaction fees. EJ writes that, given the lack of transparency among site users ahead of time, she assumed that Airbnb was doing a better job of screening its customers:

By hindering my ability to research the person who will rent my home, there is an implication that airbnb.com has already done the research for me, and has eliminated the investigative work that Craigslist requires. In effect, the friendly, community-based site with its Golden Rules creates a reasonable expectation that some basic screening of its users has occurred, and speaks little to the risks involved, primarily within the very small print of the lengthy Terms of Service. Thus by the time this reservation was confirmed and I was given Dj's email address and phone number, I was on a plane heading East, and he/she was armed with my welcoming instructions on where to pick up the keys to my apartment.
EJ also asserts that it took 14 hours for Airbnb to return a panicked phone call she made to the company after she discovered what had happened.

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Dorothy
Dorothy

You shouldn't have left your valuables in  a apartment where you are letting strangers that you didn't even speak with stay unsupervised( ok, so you had sent a few emails back and forth  but how did you know that you weren't emailing the hillside strangler or equivalent ). What were you thinking... Did you read the agreement with this company does it say that they through do background  check or did  they or you get any reference before you handed this key to a person you don't even know what they look like...  we live in a dishonest world unfortunately and last time i check we are not in Kansas anymore to-to ... San Francisco is no May berry. Common sense tells you that you don't leave your credit card info or personal information in a place again where "strangers" would be staying I mean come on the TV and local sunset scavenger garbage company will tell you to not even put that kind of stuff into your own garbage can... If you knew you were going to be having these strangers staying in your home you should have gotten a storage or safety deposit box .... I am sorry that this happened to you but your a victim of your own lack of common sense

Shawn Gardner
Shawn Gardner

. The way I see it, the answer is, Renter's insurance. In the peer to peer space where assets are rented out, insurance is needed. More on this see an article posted on Hacker News. http://news.ycombinator.com/it...

____
____

When I saw Airbnb my dyslexia kicked in and read Arab...hmm...

saimin
saimin

Does Airbnb or their insurance company reimburse the victim for the damages, or does she have to sue them?

SnarkysMachine
SnarkysMachine

Reimburse them for what? Seems like she made a bad decision. Is using this service even legal in SF? So much about this story sound fishy to me. Is there anyone out there verifying the facts of this story or are people just going to keep reposting "EJ" account as though it were fact. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

Red Lami
Red Lami

I agree about the sloppiness of the reporting. Where is the statement from the SFPD? Why hasn't EJ been heard from since the original posts? Things on the web are seldom what they seem, and it doesn't help when bloggers don't bother asking questions.

MrEricSir
MrEricSir

No, it's real:http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/...

If anything's sloppy, it's the CEO's response. If your business model relies on assuming that people are "fundamentally good," you're gonna have a problem when you meet reality.

dantsea
dantsea

You have additional information? Cool. Share!

dantsea
dantsea

If you selected "have to sue them," a winnar is you. They're saying they don't owe her a dime per their agreement. I think a court of equity might see it differently. ETA: Alas, it doesn't appear that CA does chancery courts.

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