In the first days of the war in Ukraine, one of the most ingenious ways of donating money to Ukrainian citizens who were victims of Russian aggression was to book and pay for houses and rooms on Airbnb. Fictitious reservations, of course, but with real and sound balances transferred directly to the accounts of the owners and managers of those accommodations until a few weeks ago available to tourists and today, perhaps, destroyed by bombing.
As the platform launched its program, aimed at hosts from neighboring countries and beyond, to host up to 100,000 people who fled the country – we are now at 10 million people between internally displaced persons and refugees who managed to escape across the western borders with the European Union and Moldova – users thus organized themselves in other ways. Yet, as he reports Wired US, after a first initial enthusiasm for this useful trick, the same platform presses (at least in part) on the brake. And not only did it begin, as some testimonies collected by the US magazine tell us, ad cancel reservations and reimburse benefactors from the rest of the world, but also to investigate further what is possible risks of fraud.
“We have identified a number of hosts who have not supported this effort in the spirit it was born for,” he explained Ben Broad, responsible for the global communication of the platform for transparency and trust. Basically, after the phenomenon – which was much talked about a couple of weeks ago – started to spread and mount, some hosts have created “ghost adverts “ relating to non-existent apartments. In some cases, moreover, these hosts did not reside in Ukraine and they had only uploaded housing listings in the past few days or weeks.
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If in the first case (the ghost apartments) the interpretation that could be given is that, false or true that it is the announcement, the important thing is that the money reaches Ukrainian citizens in dire need, the second clue left Airbnb security experts imagining a larger design. In any case, both the first aspect and the second violate the rules of the platform that precisely prohibit bogus advertisements: whether they have been published with the genuine purpose of channeling some funds more quickly, it doesn’t matter.
The phenomenon has reached considerable dimensions: until 21 March people from all over the world have booked over 434 thousand nights in major Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv, Odessa and Lviv to support Ukrainian citizens as directly as possible, and without intermediaries. Bookings that have brought in economic help of about 15 million dollars and from which the platform – which provided these data – obviously did not withdraw its share of 20% for each transaction. But the matter has perhaps become too big, Airbnb was certainly not born for this type of operation and in fact some have thought of speculating on pain and taking advantage of this massive inflow to divert a part of it into their own pockets.
It is no coincidence that in mid-March Airbnb has blockedin Ukraine, the ability to create new ads in an effort to minimize the scams of which the first victims are the people who managed these accommodations until a few weeks ago. The company co-founded and led by Brian Chesky also explained that they had started a business of review of all advertisements in Ukraine and having activated other tools, unspecified, to identify scams. Reminding people that another possible channel of donation is that of turn the money over to Airbnb.orgthe foundation of the group that is in fact paying for housing for 100,000 people fleeing the country.
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In some cases, for example, the donations went to companies that manage numerous properties in Ukraine or to owners who do not live basically in their home country. So it happened to an owner of which Wired US tells the story: Aleksandra Baklanova, who lives in London and was on vacation in Mexico when the war broke out. In the utmost transparency, she turned the money over to the collaborators who usually take care of the cleaning of the apartments that she actually manages remotely.
“I had heard the news that Airbnb had eliminated the fees for hosts because they realized that many were using the platform to get money to Ukraine as a form of support for the population – he tells a Italian Tech an Italian Airbnb user who prefers to remain anonymous and who made a similar charitable booking a few days ago – so as soon as I saw that some other friend was also making this sort of ‘donation’, I instinctively searched for the city most affected in those days (Kharkiv), and among the proposals for apartments I tried to select the hosts that seemed most reliable to me, and I donated roughly the amount I would have spent on a weekend booking. I contacted the host obviously to let him know that it was a donation and that I hoped that the funds would arrive directly and in a short time. He replied shortly after thanking me for the support ”. As for scams, “I am sure there will also have been a lot of fraud. There are always those who take advantage of these things. In fact, in all honesty, those who couldn’t afford to do both, or who had the slightest doubt, I advised to support the cause through the official associations and non-profit organizations”.