Tech & Work

Seven ride-sharing scams to watch out for

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft offer the convenience of quick and affordable transportation. But they can also involve scams targeting both riders and drivers.

Ride-sharing services are here to stay, having proven their utility and value. I've had ups and downs with Uber and Lyft. (Every ride I've requested fizzled out in a no-show, but I've had successful rides with relatives or friends who hailed the vehicle, so perhaps it's just me.)

Many people make a living offering ride services to passengers. Office parties hosted offsite often involve reimbursement by the company for ride-sharing or cab transportation and the term "Uber" has become a veritable verb in the business and consumer community.

The no-show drivers I experienced claimed they couldn't find me—even at public venues such as an airport and a stadium—so I ended up canceling the ride but was then charged a fee. It became evident to me that this was a possible scam, so I began researching ride-sharing rip-offs, asked some of my associates about their experiences, and thus learned quite a bit.

A few bad apples might not necessarily spoil the barrel; I have friends who swear by Uber and Lyft and I've heard many positive stories. I am sure there are plenty of bona fide drivers out there, but I did hear a few cautionary tales as well.

Here are seven typical ride-sharing scams to look out for, along with advice regarding what you can do about them. Some scams apply to dishonest drivers, but others to passengers who behave badly. I advise notifying your users/employees about these scams if they use ride-sharing services for company business or if you work for a ride-sharing company.

SEE: Ebook: Essential travel tips for business pros (Tech Pro Research)

Scams targeting the passenger

1. Cancellation fees

As described, this one works by the driver no-showing, and then your account gets dinged for a fee. I don't really see why this one even exists, since I would imagine most people will be outraged and dispute the fee. That's what I did, and I was successful every time.

The general advice I found here is this: Don't enact a ride cancellation if you are ditched and take a screenshot of the current status of your app. (Google the details on how to capture a screenshot depending on the model of your phone.)

Then request another ride, wait for it to transfer to another driver, and either take the ride or cancel it—and supposedly there will be no applied fee. After that, contact Uber/Lyft support to discuss the situation. If the original driver has a history of no-shows resulting in cancellations this should make itself clear.

Another variation of the cancellation scam may involve a driver attempting to exploit a language barrier or feigning confusion about the trip details. You may enter the vehicle and get a notification from the app that the trip was canceled by the driver. The driver pretends not to understand your objections and then finally says you got into the wrong vehicle but they will transport you at a more expensive trip price. Since the original trip was canceled there is no record of it in your account.

The solution here is to ensure that the trip has been started on the app by the driver before you enter the vehicle. That way, the trip will appear in your account and any complaints can be more easily addressed. Do not engage in a rescheduled trip at a higher price.

2. Fraudulent charges

It may sound particularly low, but I've come across reports of drivers charging riders for a cleaning fee for messes they didn't make or alleged damage to the car. In some cases, the fees have cost up to $200 or higher.

I've also heard of surprise trip "upgrades" based on a false number of alleged passengers, whereby riders are charged more for people who weren't in the vehicle to begin with.

To combat such shenanigans, I recommend taking pictures of the interior of the vehicle during and at the exit of the ride. The timestamp on the photo should help suffice as proof, and you can include your wristwatch in that final shot to confirm what time you exited the car.

Simply taking the photos with the driver's knowledge will probably stave off most fake charges of this nature. I realize it can be tricky to do this without offending what might be a perfectly nice person by insinuating that you don't trust them. I'm not going to advocate lying, but a simple comment like "My company requires photographic evidence to reimburse my ride" or "I keep a collage of all my Uber/Lyft rides for my scrapbook" (don't laugh; I've seen crazier claims) will work just fine.

3. Preying upon ignorance

Some common schemes that involve preying upon rider ignorance are those that have probably existed for as long as taxi services themselves—maybe even the horse and buggy—but are worth pointing out.

Drivers may ask for extra cash for some purported reason (tolls, perhaps); always remember the app should pay for the ride in its entirety.

Taking you the "long way" is another common scheme to inflate fares. In this day and age of GPS directions, it's a pretty risky maneuver, but it may still be worth punching up Google Maps, Waze, or some other GPS application to ensure that the driver is on the level.

Another tactic I've heard of involves the driver not officially ending the ride when you exit the vehicle—meaning you may be charged for the privilege of their driving a few more blocks or even miles without the pleasure of your company. Always be sure that the app indicates the ride has ended when you exit.

Last but not least, be on the lookout for fake drivers who claim to be from Uber or Lyft but are really independent renegades. You may end up charged way more than you expected, or worse. Never enter a vehicle that doesn't match the one the app is indicating.

SEE: Business pro's guide to hassle-free travel (free TechRepublic PDF)

4. Phishing scams

In the wake of a serious data breach that Uber experienced involving more than 50 million customers, some of these customers may have received phishing emails purportedly from Uber that asked them to reset a password via a provided link. The link, of course, is fake and redirects unsuspecting users to a malicious website asking for the current password as part of the alleged reset process. If attackers get access to your account, they may enjoy plenty of free rides at your expense.

Never change your password by clicking a link. Always use the app itself or go directly to the website to do so.

Scams targeting the driver

5. Passengers canceling trip in the middle of a ride

Some reports indicate that passengers may cancel a trip during a ride to reduce the amount they have to pay. Obviously, it's important for drivers to monitor the app and examine any notifications that may come in during the ride. It's easy enough to hook up a Bluetooth connection from a smartphone to modern vehicles so that these come through the car speakers, making driving safer.

6. More phishing scams

Phishing attempts against drivers may involve claims by malicious individuals to be Uber/Lyft employees. These individuals employ a concocted story requesting two-factor codes texted to the driver telling them to click on a texted link to a certain website (which is of course fraudulent and harvests passwords) or they may request the driver's password directly. All of this is usually cloaked in a so-called effort to provide money or bonuses to the driver to increase their likelihood of compliance. Once the driver is successfully duped, the individual has access to the driver's account as well as their money.

Be aware that Uber and Lyft employees rarely call drivers and even in those scenarios would never offer financial incentives nor ask for account details or other private information. Never share any personal information, whether phone numbers, email addresses, passwords, social security numbers, credit cards, or any codes texted to you.

SEE: The new commute: How driverless cars, hyperloop, and drones will change our travel plans (TechRepublic cover story)

7. Fake passenger complaints

Passengers may file fake complaints to get refunds or free rides or just to be vindictive over a petty disagreement or misunderstanding. The complaints can involve a number of fraudulent claims, such as the driver was reckless, intoxicated, took a circuitous route, didn't show up, was abusive, or exhibited prejudice against the passenger's race or gender.

This can be a serious business. Passenger complaints are likely to result in driver suspensions or deactivations.

Drivers have recourse here that permits them to get more information about the complaint to contest it and end the suspension/reactivate the account. It's best to establish when the incident occurred, whether the ride was canceled, and if so by whom.

To avoid this situation in the first place, I recommend getting a dashboard-mounted video camera with sufficient storage to last several days. Note that you should consult your local laws to ensure that this is permissible, as it is not legal in every state.

If the accusation has already been made, it can also be helpful to arrange for Uber or Lyft to contact other passengers you drove during that timeframe so they can substantiate your side of the story, if possible.

Also read...

Your stories

Have you encountered any sketchy situations with a ride-share, either as a passenger or as a driver? Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.

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Image: iStock/toeytoey2530


About Scott Matteson

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

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