How to warn others about scammers on warmshowers cyclist touring site?
September 20, 2022 12:10 AM   Subscribe

The website started as "bicycle diplomacy" - matching welcoming hosts with touring cyclists from all over the world. Last week, I ended up with guests who wouldn't leave. I managed to get them out, which was a nervewracking ordeal. I feel compelled to warn others, but how can I do it without backlash and retaliation?

We have been hosting touring cyclists using the website. Yes, it's very kumbaya - fling open your doors to strangers, give them dinner, a bed, and the titular warm shower, and bask in the international camaraderie of touring cyclists.

It has been quite wonderful for several years, and we met lovely people from all over the world. That is, until last week. I feel very stupid and did not listen to my instincts about "Keith and Marla." In hindsight, they are scammers who've perfected their story and use the website to find suckers. They camped out in my house, surly and menacing, never going out, asserting some sort of right to stay for weeks and weeks.

I got them out, but I want to warn others. I want to avoid retaliation, and I need help assessing the options. I would feel remiss if they go on victimizing others. The website clearly disavows any responsibility. Also, they seem to have some positive reviews, meaning that they select their targets. I feel deep sadness at the idea of lovely unsuspecting people going through what I went through.

I feel angry and sad and ashamed that I was so stupid. I will be seeing a therapist to work through my feelings.

My first idea so far is to open a sock puppet account on the website and leave a review with a vague warning. Anything other concrete action for warning others?
posted by dum spiro spero to Human Relations (10 answers total)
Best answer: If I were me, I would just leave an honest review. But since you're concerned about retaliation, email Warm Showers and tell them what happened and ask what they recommend.

I hosted through several platforms in the pre-pandemic era, and once someone followed me from Couchsurfing (when I rejected them there) to Warm Showers. I shared a copy of the email they sent me with Warm Showers (so they could put a back-end note on the account or whatever), and Warm Showers promptly removed that person's profile.
posted by aniola at 12:20 AM on September 20 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: It's heartening to hear that they do respond, but I don't have a "smoking gun" in the form of an email. The interaction and conversations were in person. Did you reach a real person, or was it just a quick resolution?
posted by dum spiro spero at 12:24 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also, if you don't mind, what email did you use to contact warmshowers? I used their web form once before and never got a reply. I thought I saw an email on a subpage but couldn't find it again. Thank you so much for your help.
posted by dum spiro spero at 12:34 AM on September 20

Response by poster: Oh, I think I found it. Though lest people think I'm overly pessimistic about a response, read this report of a sexual predator.
posted by dum spiro spero at 12:42 AM on September 20

Here's their Guidelines page.

Their comment in that thread you linked said "Hello all, Warmshowers here. Please report through the contact us form - any concerns you have and our trust and safety team will review each one. The best way to handle it is to post a feedback with honest information without disparaging remarks, swear words, or name calling. We see each negative review and ensure it follows the guidelines."

To answer your follow-up question, I didn't see anything in my email history but I delete things I don't think I'll need again, so I don't know if they emailed me or not, but I'm pretty sure I got a response from a human letting me know they had removed the account.

I hope this doesn't scare you (or anyone) off from hosting strangers. We need more of that in this world. I am reminded of this excellent comment.
posted by aniola at 1:02 AM on September 20

Is/was filing a police complaint against these people an option? Even if it's not likely to do anything, it might help to have established a record on them.
posted by trig at 5:07 AM on September 20 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would absolutely create an anon account and leave an honest review that briefly summarizes the issues. There is no need to go into a lot of detail. Merely saying that they overstayed and would not leave when requested speaks volumes and will be a clear red flag.
posted by Mid at 6:45 AM on September 20 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a bit unclear what retaliation you'd anticipate here? (Note - in not second guessing your instincts coming out of what sounds like an awful circumstance, I just can't quite guess what you mean). Are you concerned about them re-entering your home? Changing locks could be prudent if they had keys in their possession. Were they actively violent or threatened violence? I might agree with the previous posters to report them, both to the police and to the site separately (even without a written "smoking gun"). Or are you more concerned about online harassment?

For the latter, I've written negative reviews on AirBnb, and just kept them EXTREMELY factual. No emotion whatsoever. Like, "Guest arrived after the agreed-upon time. They declined to keep noise down after quiet hours. They only left after X requests, and left the house dirty" (with explicit explanation of what 'dirty' means). This approach is most helpful when you have "house rules" or a code of conduct you can refer to.

If they respond privately and abusively, you can report them. If they respond publicly and try to pin it back on you, it makes them look bad (especially if you stay very factual).
posted by Paper rabies at 7:35 AM on September 20 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I feel re-victimized at having to take on the burden of proof.

Unfortunately this is the reality of making an effective complaint: you have to see it through. The flipside is that no one could make a vague or non-detailed or unsupported complaint about YOU; they'd be presumably held to the same standard of proof.

It is up to you to decide which strain you are more willing and capable of taking on: the ethical discomfort of letting a scammer "get away with it" or the higher level of interpersonal conflict you'd undoubtably encounter if you tried to tangle with them. There is no right choice, only what is right for you.
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:47 AM on September 20 [10 favorites]

My sock puppet account, which has no address or details, and specifies a different province, just got a request to house them in the second half of October!
There are some opportunities for revenge here.
posted by Sauce Trough at 11:56 AM on September 20 [7 favorites]

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