When Molly Flaherty walked up to her home in Philadelphia on Christmas night, she was shocked to find four people huddled around her lockbox at the steps to her front door.
“It was 10 o’clock at night, so I was a little scared at first,” Flaherty told Insider. “Were these people that were trying to break into my house? Or were they at the wrong house? I even thought was there something wrong with my house? Was there gas or smoke or something?”
The group seemed more confused than anything, she said, so she approached them and introduced herself as the homeowner.
Nicole Brunet, who was standing at the lockbox, told Flaherty she’d rented the property on Airbnb for her parents, who were visiting for the holidays from California, Brunet told Insider.
But Flaherty had never listed her home on the vacation-rental website.
The listing was real, but Flaherty didn’t make it
Brunet said she initially thought she might have the wrong address, and Flaherty assumed the same.
But when Brunet pulled up the Airbnb listing, Flaherty said the address and photos matched her house.
Flaherty shared screengrabs of the listing — which has since been removed from Airbnb — with Insider. She said the images of the home’s interior were taken before she bought it in 2020.
After Flaherty insisted she’d never listed her house as a vacation rental on Airbnb, Brunet realized she’d been scammed, Brunet said.
It’s what Airbnb calls an “account takeover,” when a scammer steals an Airbnb owner’s password.
An Airbnb representative told Insider that the listing for Flaherty’s home technically wasn’t fake but was an outdated listing that was likely reactivated by a scammer.
The screengrabs showed that the listing had a 4.7-star rating and more than 100 reviews when Brunet reserved it.
“I’m a tech-savvy person,” Brunet said. “I read reviews. I looked at the pictures. I walked by the house before I rented it to make sure my parents would be happy there.
“That’s the craziest part about this whole thing,” she continued, adding that the listing “had every component of a real account.” The experience, she said, has “shattered” her trust in Airbnb.
In a statement sent to Insider, the company said that “issues like this are rare, and we were disappointed to learn about it.” It added, “We provided support to the guests at the time to help make things right, including a full refund, and have deactivated the listing.”
Brunet said that when she reported the listing to Airbnb that night, the company offered to book them another Airbnb. But she said there was “no way” she was going to do that since “there was no way for me to tell if they were real or fake.”