You want to protect your short-term rental business from the risk posed by destructive or even criminal guests. One best practice is to run background checks on potential bookings, something offered by many online travel agencies (OTAs).But, unless you’re willing to go deeper, a standard background check from a company like Vrbo can be more security theater than an effective safeguard.
You could try manually screening your guests but that’s time-consuming and imprecise, allowing unconscious biases and gut feelings to inform decision making, without really alleviating risk. This could even cause loss of potential revenue as you reject potentially great guests out of fear.
So, if you can’t rely on Vrbo background checks, what can you do to protect your investments and reputation as a responsible rental operator? This guide explains how Vrbo background checks work and what steps you can take to accept bookings with confidence in a way that’s reliable, scalable, and automated.
What do we mean by background checks?
Background checks are used by rental companies—like Vrbo, Airbnb, HomeAway, and Booking.com—to vet guests and hosts to see if they have a criminal record. In order for this sort of limited check to work, the guest has to be providing their legitimate identity. Even then, these sorts of checks are costly to run in most countries and so most OTAs are unable to run them on international guests.
Background checks like this help rental companies to appear responsible to local authorities, who often scrutinize short term rentals, and can help to ease concerns for both hosts and guests who are assured that some level of due diligence has taken place.
But while these background checks can put minds at rest and provide some minimal barrier entry for the most obvious (and lazy) fraudsters and troublemakers, they’re next to useless when it comes to anticipating which guests might engage in more ‘gray’ behavior, like breaking your house rules to throw a party.
They’re also pretty ineffective at anticipating ‘dark’ behavior, like drug dealing or sex trafficking, as professional criminals are usually sophisticated enough to use false identities that make detecting them more difficult.
Both these types of bad guests, undetectable for most basic background checks, can put your investment at risk and damage your reputation. Plus, doing what you can to prevent this behavior in the local community around your properties is also the right thing to do.
Only by performing more in-depth guest screening can you confidently prevent these guests from taking advantage of your property, but if you put the right measures in place, you’ll be able to accept even last-minute reservations with confidence to maximize your occupancy rates and revenue.
Want to perform in-depth verifications on your bookings?
Autohost performs advanced guest-vetting processes to lower risk.
Does Vrbo do background checks?
Vrbo does perform basic background checks by verifying identification and checking for fraudulent user accounts. Vrbo takes the following steps to verify guest identification and check that they’ll be low risk for hosts:
Before Guest Stay (Upon Booking Request)
Before a guest makes a booking, they can complete the Vrbo ID Verification process to mark their guest profile with a “Verified Identity” tick. They do this by using government ID to confirm their name, physical address, birth date, and other personal information.
This process is similar to Airbnb background checks, which also use ID Verification. Though in both cases, this step isn’t required for short-term bookings. The host has to choose to request a government ID.
Vrbo allows third-party vendors to verify identity via more detailed background checks but they don’t require this level of verification to confirm a booking.
To make a booking, your guest will also agree to follow your House Rules, such as policies for parking, trash, and noise. Fellow Vrbo owners also complete Guest Reviews, which will mean prospective guests will come with a rating attached, provided they have a history of booking with the platform (which bad actors may not).
Airbnb verifications. Source: User’s Airbnb profile
Vrbo verifications. Source: User’s Vrbo profile
During Guest Stay
Vrbo suggests hosts install privacy-safe noise monitoring hardware so you can receive alerts if noise levels reach unacceptable volumes and stop any unauthorized parties before they get out of hand.
You’re also advised to report misconduct to Vrbo or contact authorities in the event of an emergency.
After Guest Stay
Vrbo offers liability insurance and property damage protection, though this limited coverage leaves property managers in limbo hoping insurance will cover any damage after the fact. And even if the damage is covered in full, you’ll likely experience downtime during repairs.
So, as with most things, prevention is the best cure—which means thorough guest screening in advance of booking confirmation.
What are the limitations of Vrbo's background checking process?
As may be clear from what’s been written above, Vrbo’s background checks and guest verification policies are far from comprehensive and have some glaring limitations. Here’s a summary of some of the biggest:
ID verification isn't enough
Great, Vrbo has verified your guest’s identity as authentic and accurate. Yet, this fact doesn’t mean the guest on the ID will walk through your door. The guest can use an altered, stolen, or forged ID with a fake user profile purchased from the darknet.
One homeowner we spoke to gave an ‘ID-verified’ guest access to their vacation rental only for the guest to steal everything from the home immediately after check-in. With incidents like this in mind, you can see how ID verification is not enough to protect your hospitality business.
IDs don't explain guest intentions
Guests don't have ‘felon’ or ‘rule-breaker’ stamped on their IDs. Vrbo background checks won't reveal most of the dark, let alone gray, problems you could face.
At Autohost, we’ve discovered 90% of our hosts’ previous issues come from the gray category, which may seem minor but add up to major problems. Once backed by our guest screenings, property managers can catch this kind of issue before accepting a risky booking. No property manager should experience the death of their business by a thousand cuts.
Consider the following scenario. A couple with verified identities rents a Vrbo vacation home with two bedrooms. Because the home has an extra bedroom, they decide to invite over a friend who lives in the area. When the friend asks if she can bring her boyfriend, a person the couple hasn’t met, they give a tentative ‘yes’.
When the second couple arrives, they park on the street in violation of the Homeowners’ Association (HOA) agreement. The unknown boyfriend smokes cigarettes inside the home all night.
Not only does he inflict smoke damage to the property, but he burns holes in the couch's cushions. The cleaning service fee costs more than usual to remove the smoke smell. This fee, plus furniture replacement, exceeds the property damage protection from Vrbo.
Late at night, the small group listens to loud music, and the neighbor complains to the HOA. Finally, the group has extra trash because of the get-together. They place a full trash bag on top of the trash can. At a later date, the HOA fines the property manager for the parking, noise, and trash violations.
This one night displays many gray-category issues brought upon by difficult guests. The guests’ small decisions led to large problems for the homeowner’s reputation as a neighbor.
The host had to spend extra time and money cleaning and fixing the damage. And let’s not forget the HOA fines. The property ended up with downtime waiting on the new couch, an item on backorder due to the pandemic.
Nothing in the above scenario could be predicted by a Vrbo background check. The homeowner could have avoided all these problems by screening their guests with a more intelligent tool based on more data points.
At Authohost, we check each guest’s digital footprint (email address, phone number, IP address, social media presence, etc.). This information sheds light on both the dark and gray unknowns. This way, you experience peace of mind through screening your guests for a better idea of their intentions.
How to combat the limitations of Vrbo background checks
We recommend property managers use guest screening services rather than simple background checks. Autohost offers automated, comprehensive guest screenings. We fill in the gaps of Vrbo’s background checks. Optimize profitable transactions and remove the risk of harmful bookings. To know your customer (KYC), apply the Autohost difference.
What is guest screening? We examine each reservation’s risk level through unbiased data points. For example, we confirm guests’ IDs and note credit card chargebacks. We also screen social media content to look for warning signs of fraud.
Next, we contact the guests to confirm their information and intent. This step is similar to the way an Airbnb host asks guests questions. You can require the guests to sign a legally-binding rental agreement and pay a security deposit.
The couple in the above scenario would have thought twice about inviting people over. These guests would’ve also agreed not to allow smoking in the rental, so they’d be more careful to avoid serious consequences for violating their rental agreement.
Finally, the security deposit offers coverage for fees incurred by difficult guests. In fact, you can determine the amount for the security deposit based on a transaction’s risk level.
Autohost offers options for hosts to screen guests. Source: Autohost.ai
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Limit liability and accept bookings with confidence
Vrbo’s shallow background checks can lead to problems for property owners. Without data-driven guest screenings, you won’t know which risky bookings to turn down. For example, party-related damages can cost more than a guest's deposit. Or neighbors can submit noise complaints caused by guests’ unidentified friends.
Worse, a felon could steal a minor’s ID and use the identity to create a booking. These disruptions influence your reputation and profit. Not to mention, these issues waste your valuable time. Autohost’s automatic services reduce these disruptions and allow you to accept even last-minute bookings with confidence so you can maximize the potential of your properties.
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Autohost completes thorough guest verifications to avoid every level of risk.
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Frequently asked questions about Vrbo background checks
How strict is Vrbo?
Vrbo isn’t very strict in terms of enforcing ID verification checks for its guests. They don't complete background checks outside the personal information a guest provides. A host can request a government ID to stay at their vacation rental site but this is completely optional.
Does Vrbo check credit?
Vrbo doesn’t check a guest’s credit or history of credit card chargebacks. So, if a property owner doesn’t screen a guest for credit card history, they can lose money to fraudulent credit cards.
Does Vrbo check age?
Vrbo checks age by verifying the birthday provided on a guest’s ID. However, ID verification is not required to submit a booking request and it’s far from foolproof even when a guest does provide ID because most sophisticated criminals will use false or stolen ID to avoid detection.
Does Vrbo require an ID?
Vrbo doesn’t require an ID for booking, except in Spain. The website only encourages a traveler to confirm their identity to build trust with a host. When a guest opts into the ID verification process, Vrbo verifies their identity for accuracy and authenticity, though this doesn’t do anything to protect against people who would use a fake or stolen ID.
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