Top taxi tricks, from meter fiddling to money swaps: Internet Scambusters #433
Taxi scams won't bust your bank balance but knowing an unscrupulous driver tricked you will drive you nuts.
And although the vast majority of drivers are reliable and honest, scams are widespread, both at home and abroad.
Some of their tricks are well known and easily spotted; others will just as easily fool you if you're not prepared. Read our advice to find out more.
Let's get started...
7 Common Taxi Scams -- and 7 Steps to Beat Them
A few weeks back, a New York taxi driver was jailed for overcharging his passengers.
It was the latest in a series of court prosecutions against a few dozen Big Apple taxi guys who besmirched the reputation of the city's 45,000 cabbies by scamming customers.
And you'll find these types of unscrupulous characters in pretty much any place you visit, whether in the US or abroad.
The most common taxi scams they use are also equally widespread. We've touched on some of them in earlier reports about travel scams.
Travel Scams -- Here, There and Everywhere
The 5 Most Common Types of Airport Scams and How to Avoid Them
Though they may vary from one location to the next, here are the 7 most frequent types of taxi scams to be on the look-out for:
- Charging the wrong meter rate. This was what happened in New York, but you're just as likely to encounter it in Mexico City, Mumbai or any other location.Most taxi systems have multiple tariffs according to time of day, destination or travel zones. The cabbie just flicks over to the expensive one.
- Other taxi meter scams. These include failing to zero the meter at the start of your trip, simply not switching it on, or claiming it's broken.
- Unlicensed drivers. Anyone with a car can claim to be a taxi driver, but most commonly these scammers show up at airports or tourist hotspots.They don't use official taxi parking areas but they may use autos with markings that make them look like the genuine item.
- Extra charges. In this taxi scam, the driver charges extra for anything from phony road or bridge tolls to fees for using air conditioning or heating, or even for carrying your luggage.
- Longhauling. Otherwise cynically referred to as "taking the scenic route," this trick involves taking a long and complicated route to your destination, thereby bumping up the distance traveled -- and the fare.
- More taxi destination scams. These come in a variety of guises.For instance, your driver tells you that the tourist hotspot you planned to visit is closed or even that your hotel changed its name, so he takes you somewhere else -- where he gets a kickback from the owner.In another taxi scam, the driver takes you to the wrong location, insists that's what you asked for, then charges extra to take you to where you really wanted to go.
- Money tricks. The sleight-of-hand switching of bills for a lower value note, followed by a claim that you didn't pay enough, is an increasingly common scam in Europe and Mexico, and even in the US.Another trick is to run the taxi meter in a local currency but, at the end of the journey, to claim it's for dollars or euros, which works out to be much more expensive. We've heard this is well known in the Czech Republic.In other instances, when you try to pay your fare with a large denomination note, the taxi driver claims to have no change, hoping you'll leave it at that.
Alternatively, a rogue taxi driver may give you change -- but using counterfeit notes.
Finally, there's the driver who asks you to pay in advance for a planned round-trip, plus waiting time. Sure, he takes you to your location, but you never see him again.
Of course, as in the New York case, it's important to stress that the majority of taxi drivers are decent folk trying to make a living.
And, by taking a few sensible precautions, you can cut the risk of becoming a taxi scam victim, or at least improve the chance of being able to do something about it if you get caught out.
Here are our top 7 tips:
- Research. The most important thing you can do is to find out approximate fares if you're going somewhere unfamiliar. The Internet makes it easy since many travel sites list fares for common journeys.In the US, you can also use specialist sites like TaxiFareFinder.com. And many city websites also publish standard taxi fare rates.Hotel front desks and travel guide books are helpful too.
While you're doing this, check out the possibility of using public transport as an alternative -- but it must be verifiably safe and close to your departure and destination points.
- Pay in advance. You can usually do this for airport transfers, either online or through your travel agent, though you may still be expected to tip your driver. But make sure you know how to find your taxi (see below).Some airports and foreign railway stations have prepayment booths, where you can buy a voucher for your journey.
- Use only licensed taxis. You'll usually find these at official taxi stands or in orderly lines, which the licensed drivers police themselves.Look also for official taxi plates, known as livery plates, especially in the US.When you've booked or paid in advance, ensure you know how to identify your taxi.
Waving a voucher in the air will attract rogue drivers who claim to be with your taxi company but then find a way of charging you or ripping you off.
Ideally, use a taxi company rather than an individual driver, since you'll then have a point of contact in case of problems.
- Discuss the fare. If you're in any way uncertain, or if the taxi doesn't have a meter (or the driver claims it's broken), establish the likely fare before you get in the taxi.In some countries, example fares for popular journeys may even be posted beside the taxi line.Regardless of this, ask if there will be any extra charges as part of the journey, and ensure the meter is zeroed when you set off.
- Identify your taxi and driver. Make a note of the license and livery plate numbers and any identifying information inside the vehicle.Use your camera, especially a cellphone if you have one, to photograph the vehicle and other identifying information.
- Watch your money. Carry small denomination bills and other change so you can get as near as possible to the correct fare.Whether you do this or not, hand bills over slowly, counting them out aloud as you do so.If you discover you've received counterfeit notes in your change and you followed tip #5 above, you'll have some useful information to report to the police.
- Just don't do it. Don't go with a taxi driver who makes claims that would eventually lead to a destination other than where you want to go.Don't get involved in an altercation with a taxi driver unless you're in a safe place, like a hotel or airport. Better to take up your complaint with the taxi company.And don't pay your taxi fare until your baggage has been unloaded. Dishonest drivers have been known to drive off with suitcases still on board.
Traveling by taxi is convenient but expensive, sometimes surprisingly so. So, it makes sense to be alert to the taxi scams we've outlined here, and to take the necessary precautions to avoid them.
And when you think of it, a good, honest, friendly taxi driver is the nearest most of us ever come to having a personal chauffeur -- so, enjoy!
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!