By Adam Levin
As the warm afterglow of your holiday spending spree morphs into the harsh reality of bloated credit card balances, daunting minimum payments, and depressed credit scores, and the pressure of Valentine’s Day and April 15 creates a burning sensation in the pit of your stomach, you may well find yourself looking around for viable ways to make a few extra dollars. Maybe you’ve even thought about renting out your home on a short-term basis using Airbnb.
In the past five years, more than 550,000 people have turned to Airbnb to rent out all or a portion of their homes to 10 million users. Seems like a relatively painless way to reduce debt, boost income and maybe even do something fun at the same time, right?
Not to be a buzz-kill, allow me to assume my Shiva God of Death persona for just a moment and remind you of the risks inherent in the decision to open your home (indeed your life) to a complete stranger. And unfortunately, there are plenty of horror stories from which to choose.
Despite Airbnb’s well-publicized Host Guarantee, which covers damage to certain types of items within a property up to $1 million, the company doesn’t protect credit cards, checks or any other financial instruments a criminally-minded guest might find — much less the kind of documents that have no inherent value on their own but in the wrong hands could be important pieces to the puzzle that allows an identity thief to convince others that he or she is you. (Nor do they cover jewelry, fine art, furs, automobiles, watercraft, underground mines, dams and — not kidding — standing timber.)
In the most widely-publicized case of Airbnb theft, a guest who booked “EJ’s” apartment broke into a closet, gained access to important documents, made copies of her birth certificate and Social Security card, lifted her passport and grabbed at least one credit card. Valuables were stolen as well. She rightly acknowledged that the incident exposed her to identity theft.
While EJ’s preparations were reasonable (few of us, except the most paranoid, expect a paying houseguest to break down doors), her predicament highlights a larger issue. We all keep a great deal of personally identifying information in our homes because we feel the need to keep it close at hand. Unfortunately, we tend to lose sight of the fact that it can put us at serious risk of identity theft. The more privacy- and security-conscious among us might lock it away in a closet marked “private” before we throw on the guest sheets. But how many of those closets contain safes? How much information can an unsupervised guest copy, or slip into a suitcase, if we forget to stop our mail? And what about those credit cards we leave …read more
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