Vacation Rental Guest Screening: 9 Red Flags To Look Out For.

Protect your STR business by identifying problems before they happen

Nuisance noise and parties, property damage, fraud. It’s a daunting list of the potential problems that short-term rental hosts risk every time you confirm a guest booking.

That’s why there’s no doubt that vacation rental guest screening is becoming increasingly necessary and common.

A photo of a woman holding a phone looking worried
Some key guest signs could give you pause in your vacation rental business

But how do you implement guest screening well, and what red flags should you look out for before and after guests book? And how can you check guest backgrounds without being intrusive or damaging the guest-host relationship? 


Also, is there a way to automate the whole process so you don’t have to worry if you’ve missed something, or spend hours manually checking every single guest—especially if your business is expanding and you have more guests than you physically have time to check?


Short answer: Yes—using automated guest screening technology as part of your wider tech stack ensures all red flags are caught automatically, saving you time and worry without putting off your guests.


Here’s what we recommend looking out for when it comes to guest red flags. Plus—how to ensure it doesn’t affect the guest experience, and why automation is the best way forward for consistent, reliable results.

Save time and effort by automating guest screening, and scale screening as your STR business grows.

Protect your rental properties and your host-guest relationship with Operto Guest.

Why it’s important to screen guests

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Guest screening can help protect your rentals and business income

Before we take a look at the red flags, let’s get clear on why guest screening is so important.


The benefits of guest screening

 Guest screening helps you to:


  • Detect possible risk of fraud or chargebacks – Protecting your income
  • Avoid criminal activity in your rentals – Protecting your reputation and business
  • Avoid damage – Preventing costly repairs, insurance claims, and unplanned downtime
  • Prevent parties – Avoiding damage and neighborhood complaints

What does guest screening actually do?

Automated  guest screening will:


  • Calculate the risk of possible fraud, such as credit cards that don’t match the guest’s name
  • Scan court records and criminal registers to detect past criminality
  • Cross-check guests against previous stays to identify any past issues or bad reviews
  • Identify possible “party” bookings by checking the guest’s location and length of stay

If any issues are flagged, you’re given the chance to check them manually and reach out to the guest personally (to see if there’s a harmless reason for the problem, such as using a partner’s card to book).


You can then choose your preferred course of action. For example, you might ask the guest to cancel, cancel yourself, question the guest further, send repeated reminders of the house rules (and consequences for breaking them), or just proceed with the booking. 


Whatever your decision, automated guest screening gives you control over who stays at your properties, allowing you to make informed decisions about how best to protect your business.


Red flags to look out for when manually screening a guest

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A guest with no profile picture, reviews, or otherwise hiding their identity could be a bad sign

Automated guest screening will perform a series of key, in-depth checks that you might struggle to do consistently manually, such as scanning criminal records. 


But it’s also a good idea to be aware of some potential red flags yourself when accepting (or declining) bookings from unknown guests.


These include: 


  • Last-minute or one-night bookings
  • No profile picture or platform verification
  • A large group of unrelated adults
  • A brand new account with no reviews
  • A guest from the local area
  • A guest who books without any message
  • Odd email addresses or incomplete names
  • Credit card details that don’t match the guest’s name
  • Resistance when asking questions or accepting house rules

Of course, this is a generalization, and each of these “red flags” may be honestly explained. However, one or more could be a sign of possible security issues. Here’s why.


1. Last-minute or one-night bookings

People who book last-minute or only for one night are considered more likely than other travelers to cause trouble. This is because they could be planning to host a spontaneous party, or cause havoc for one night only and then leave


Booking last minute also means that hosts have less time to perform a proper check in advance, and less time to respond if something does happen or an issue is flagged (because the guest has likely already checked-in and checked-out by then).


A random, last-minute, one-night booking—especially in conjunction with another red flag—could be a bad sign. This is especially true for Friday or Saturday night bookings too.


2. No profile picture or verification

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A guest without ID or other details could be a red flag

Some OTAs, such as Airbnb, offer guests the option to upload a profile picture and get verified using a selfie, address, contact details, and/or government ID. 


The most reputable guests will have completed this process, as they’ll be happy to have a (digital) paper trail attached to their profile, and want to show hosts that they’re safe. 


Guests who haven’t bothered (or deliberately omitted) to take this step could raise suspicion. 


At best, if they aren’t committed enough to complete their profile, they’re more likely to take an irresponsible approach to house rules. At worst, they intentionally don’t want to use their real name or ID or attach a verification paper trail to their bookings.


Some platforms don’t have profile pictures or ID verification, of course. But if the OTA offers it, and the guest doesn’t have it, that could be a possible red flag.


3. A large group of unrelated adults

A photo of adults partying
A large group of unrelated adults could be innocent…or it could signal damaging party plans

This is another type of booking that could raise suspicions. Of course, many groups could be honest, trustworthy groups of friends looking to innocently celebrate a birthday, wedding, or even a local business event. 


But they could also be partygoers who could cause structural property damage, contents damage, or excessive noise.


4. A brand new account with no reviews

In a similar vein to the lack of guest profile picture or verification, a brand new OTA account (or someone whose name lands on a brand-new social media account) could show they’re not quite who they say they are.


At best, they’re not used to booking vacation rentals and may be unaware of the rules and customs, at worst, they’ve created a new identity or profile ahead of their booking with you, to deliberately flout verification rules and book without a paper trail.


No reviews or previous booking history means that accepting their booking is a risk. Of course, everyone starts somewhere, and this alone is not necessarily a sign of trouble. But it may be a bad sign.


If they do have reviews, it’s a good idea to check them. Any reports of issues, rudeness, suspicious behavior, or rule-breaking should set alarm bells ringing.


5. A guest from the local area

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A guest who lives close by may be a negative sign

If guests are booking somewhere local to them, it’s a clear sign that they may not be coming to you to enjoy the destination or see the sights.


This makes it more likely that they’re using your property as a party venue, or worse (such as an address not associated with them, so they can engage in criminality). 


Of course, some people may simply be taking a break from the norm without wanting to travel far, or need a place to stay while their home is being renovated. But a local address could be a sign of trouble.


6. A guest who books without any message

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The best guests will leave good messages when they request to book or confirm

Many OTAs encourage guests to send a personalized message when they request to book, and your ideal guest will often write a fully personalized, friendly message, letting you know who they are and why they’re traveling, and voluntarily show that they’ve read your listing and agree to your rules.


Even a one-line, friendly “this is why we need your place” shows more willingness and respect than someone who’s clicked with no message at all. A guest who books without a message could be more dismissive, uncommunicative, or secretive, so prioritizing booking requests with messages is your best bet.


7. Odd email addresses or incomplete names

In a similar way to profiles without verification, would-be guests who have strange, spammy-looking email addresses, or won’t share their full name, may also be a red flag. 


People who withhold personal information may simply be worried about privacy or less adept at using OTAs…but they might also be intentionally avoiding a paper trail that connects them to your property. They may also be a bot or another type of spam message or booking.


But be sure not to jump to conclusions too soon on this one; an unfamiliar name may simply be an honest sign of someone’s nationality or ethnicity, and not a problem in the slightest.


8. Credit card details that don’t match the guest’s name

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Someone who tries to pay with multiple cards will be picked up by a guest screening system

Very simply, any unclear information about a guest’s credit card could be a sign of fraud or stolen details.


Guest screening tools such as Operto Guest’s enhanced digital check-in, can identify other, similar signs of suspicious financial behavior, like: 


  • Trying the same credit card over and over
  • Trying to pay with one card before switching abruptly to another
  • Trying to pay with multiple cards in different names

This could mean that criminals are trying to commit fraud, or attempting to book with multiple stolen cards or data.


However, tread carefully with this one; a different name could be innocent. A guest could be: 


  • Booking with their partner’s card 
  • Have a nickname, Westernized name, or preferred name that is considerably different from their “official” name
  • Have recently married or changed their name for another, genuine reason

This red flag, in particular, is one that could benefit from a gentle manual check if it occurs.


9. Resistance when answering questions or accepting rules

A red flag that often requires no tech or automation whatsoever is detecting any rudeness or pushback when being asked to answer basic questions or agree to your rental’s house rules—and people who are argumentative, resistant, omit information, or try to dodge questions should raise your eyebrows, fast. 


Of course, they might just be a poor communicator. But they might also be trying to evade your questions because they’re planning on breaking the house rules.


So, though you have to be wary of not allowing any in-built biases to influence your decision-making, and there may be a perfectly good explanation for a guest’s style of communication, you have to protect yourself and your business, and should feel empowered to decline a booking if they’ve given you cause for concern.


How to screen guests without hurting the guest experience

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A guest who passes your security checks may not even realize they’ve happened, so you can perform them without affecting the guest experience

Because it only requires basic guest details, automated background screening using a guest experience tool like Operto Guest can be done without adding any friction to the guest journey.


Automated guest screening is typically done as part of the digital check-in process, and offers consistent checks for every guest, regardless of age, location, gender, sexuality, or race. It usually requires only a name, ID, and address to get started


As a result, the vetting appears seamless and less prone to cause issues. If their check passes without any red flags, the guest is unlikely to even realize any screening was done.

Eliminate the friction that comes from questioning guests manually.

Save time and run automated checks with Operto Guest’s enhanced digital check-in.

Why automated guest screening is the best way to do it

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Digital, automated guest ID screening is simple and safe

Some of these red flags can be easily seen manually. But some are much more difficult to access, and far more challenging to carry out consistently. 


Plus, manually checking every booking can take hours, so it’s not a scalable solution. 


That’s where having an automated system for verifying guest IDs during check-in, shines. Operto Guest’s enhanced digital check-in enables you to:


  • Perform consistent checks automatically on every single guest booking
  • Save hours of time and stress by removing your need to manually perform checks
  • Protects the guest experience by performing checks that they may not even notice
  • Protects the guest-host relationship by removing your need to ask intrusive questions

This is how it works.


  1. Guests book via any booking channel, such as an OTA like Airbnb, Vrbo, or, or a direct booking through you
  2. The reservation syncs with your property management system (PMS), channel manager, and Operto Guest, so your calendar updates and automated messaging begins
  3. The guest screening tool scans the booking to check for any early red flags
  4. The guest completes online check-in, by confirming their name, ID, and any other details
  5. The guest’s data is scanned and checked in more detail
  6. If an issue is flagged, you have the option to double-check the issues manually
  7. If no issue is flagged, the guest is automatically verified and receives their check-in instructions
  8. If the issue persists, you can choose your next course of action, and the guest does not automatically receive any check-in information

Vacation rental guest screening: The best way to catch red flags

Manual checks can give you a lot of great insights into your guests, but unfortunately, they can’t catch everything, and you can’t perform them consistently every time. Plus, they’re extremely time-consuming. 



Automated guest screening, though, allows you to perform thorough checks on guest backgrounds and risk factors, without compromising the guest experience. 


And with an automated ID verification tool like Operto Guest’s enhanced digital check-in, you can have a completely scalable solution for security that works no matter how fast or to what extent your portfolio grows.