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Airbnb Hosts Found With Felony Records Despite Background Checks

DALY CITY (KPIX) -- Millions of people use Airbnb when they travel, trusting the property rental service will be safe. But that's not always the case.

Nothing prepared French tourist Carole Escaliere for the terrifying night she spent at an Daly City Airbnb house rental. Online, the place had looked ideal: clean, conveniently located near Silicon Valley where she's looking for work, and - best of all - cheap.

She said she was told she'd be sharing the house with one other woman. But when she arrived she found no other woman, instead it had been rented to at least seven other men.

"A guy came in the bedroom and he was looking at me and he approached me," she said.

Her friend, John Shiffer, came to rescue her after reluctantly dropping her off the night before. "Men that I thought were really sketchy were sitting there watching TV and they were watching material that I thought was inappropriate to have a female there," said Schiffer.

"It sounds like you are trying to avoid saying that they were watching porn?" we asked him.

"Not hardcore porn. Soft porn," he said.

Carole called the police after some of the male guests made advances to her in her bedroom and talked to her in the shower. "They watched her naked in the shower," said Shiffer.

The two friends were even more shocked to hear what we had to tell them, that the person who rents the home has a criminal history and has spent over a decade in prison "I did not know that before the renting the place. Now that I know that, it's, like, incredible," said Escaliere.

Incredible, but confirmed. Airbnb host Zameer Azam, who lives in the property's basement, served 10 years in state prison for kidnapping and beating the mother of his child. Azam got out three years ago. That's when he opened up shop.

Carole said she never saw Azam that night, and no charges were filed.

But it turns out Azam is not the only one hosting on Airbnb with a criminal record.

Phillip, as he calls himself on Airbnb, served seven months in state prison for felony drug charges, yet rents out a room in Los Angeles.

And Arturo, the Airbnb host of a "beautiful cozy diamond in the rough" in Los Angeles, is also a felon, currently serving time for petty theft.

In a joint investigation with our CBS affiliate in Los Angeles, we found people convicted of serious crimes, such as drug dealing, kidnapping and firearms charges, offering places to rent on Airbnb, even though the company's policies forbid it.

"Every host and guest in the U.S. gets a background check," said Nick Shapiro, Global Head of Trust & Risk Management for Airbnb. "Unfortunately for us and for everybody else the background check system is broken. A lot of counties don't put all the information online. It is a real challenge. But that is why we don't just rely on background checks. We risk assess every single reservation using predictive analytics, machine learning, behavioral analysis, instantly evaluating hundreds of different signals looking for anything suspicious.

Shapiro noted old drug convictions like Phillip's don't disqualify a host. Phillip, in fact, told our LA reporter he had turned his life around. "I regret what I did but people need a second chance. I'm a good person," he said.

But what about Azam? "We had a background check on him that came back clean," said Shapiro. "So I guess his charge was from about 15 years ago and in California due to compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act FCRA, which governs what information you can get on people, that was outside the window."

The problem is, that is simply not true. California law does limit the information companies can obtain about a person's criminal history if it's older than seven years. But that's seven years from the "date of disposition, release or parole." Azam was released from prison three years ago, meaning even the most basic background check should have uncovered Azam's checkered past.

"If we could find it how come you guys couldn't find it?" we asked Shapiro.

"So we are actually investigating how that person got through," he said.

Not very reassuring news for Escaliere and Shiffer. "You have a sense of security when you go to an Airbnb. They make you feel on their website that everything is verified," said Shiffer. "The system needs to be reformed.

Azam didn't want to speak with us when we paid him a visit at the Daly City home, which he also has advertised separately as Crashpad, LLC and SFO Crashpad.

Airbnb refunded Escaliere right away when she called to complain, and Azam's and Arturo's posts have been taken down.

One final note: we were able to find the convicted hosts through research funded by the hotel industry, but we independently verified every name and criminal history.

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