Hello again, it’s me, your resident former rideshare driver turned full-time automotive writer. With more than 9,000 rides shuttling people or food under my belt spanning a little more than four years, I’ve seen a lot behind the wheel.
Piloting a car for a ridesharing company is a pretty straightforward job. The driver picks up a person or thing from one place, drops the passenger off at another location, and then the company pays the driver for it. Through my driving, I’ve witnessed and experienced many downsides of the job, and there’s plenty of valid criticism about ridesharing, some from yours truly, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about here.
Instead, I’d like to focus on the vulnerabilities rideshare workers face. There are a lot of predators out there trying to scam drivers. Here are some of the most common con jobs I’ve seen or others have frequently complained about online.
The Fake Phone Call From Corporate
One of the most common scam encounters comes in the form of a typical spam phone call. In this case, a driver is either en route to a ride request or maybe just waiting for another ping from the app. Then, suddenly, the driver is confronted with a scary official-looking text or voicemail from someone from Lyft or Uber. The message says the company needs to talk ASAP. The calls are often somewhat threatening, and the rep might say the driver’s account will be deactivated if the call is not returned. Terrified of losing the job, the driver calls the number. When connected, the “rideshare company representative” on the other end asks for login information and assuages any fears by saying that the situation is handled. All is well, right?
Unfortunately, the representative the driver spoke with was completely fake. The scammers on the other end have changed the driver’s bank card information and have drained the earnings that were waiting to be cashed out into a personal bank account, into theirs. It’s a classic phishing scam.
Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and any of the other app-based workplaces do nearly everything entirely digitally. When things do go wrong and the in-app chatbot help is insufficient, these services often reach out via email, phone, or text. If Uber is texting or calling a driver, generally it must be a big problem. That sets up a trust, and if people see an official-looking text or call from a number that looks legitimate, they could be more willing to answer a phishing scam phone call. Sometimes, this scam takes the form of a fake ride request from someone claiming to be from corporate, then the scammer will try and gain access to the account information after the driver has accepted the ride request.
Uber and Lyft have taken some steps to make this much harder to do, but that doesn’t stop scammers from trying. For someone well-versed in recognizing scams, this method tends to be somewhat more obvious with young eyes. However, a lot of rideshare drivers are elderly, or new to the country, and might not be as familiar with phishing scams.
Passenger Cancels Mid Ride
Passengers who try to incorrectly cancel their rides are another concern. Picture this: A driver is in the middle of transporting a passenger to a destination when suddenly the in-app navigation stops. The familiar dee-doop sound effect echoes through the stereo, and the “ride canceled” text box appears on-screen. The driver asks the passenger, “Hey, did you cancel the ride?” The passenger insists, “What? No, things are all good on my end!” Rideshare service servers and wayfinding can be a bit janky, so the driver chalks it up to a glitch. Not wanting to disappoint a customer, the driver manually navigates via another GPS app to their destination and then files a support ticket to get a fare adjustment after dropping the passenger off.
Well, the passenger did, in fact, cancel the ride during the middle. Because it was viewed as a cancellation and not a completed ride, the passenger was likely only charged the $5 or $10 cancellation fee. Hell, a whiny passenger can probably get that cancellation fee waived.
Drivers can attempt to explain and fight the fake cancellation and seek accurate payment for the distance driven, but driver support is notoriously garbage, so unfortunately some drivers have been duped into giving free rides.
Passenger Complains About the Quality of Service, Unrealistically (Free Ride Scam)
Still, rideshare driving is just like other customer service jobs. Most people are cool, but now and again, there will be an unwieldy, um, Karen. Sometimes, these problematic, never-happy riders make their discontent known with a nasty attitude or condescending words all through the ride.
Other times, these disgruntled riders are sweet as pie during the ride. They make conversation, even complementing the driver’s vehicle. Yet, from their ride review in-app, they make the driver sound as though the ride involved attempting to jump over the Grand Canyon, Homer Simpson style.
Whatever, at least with these rides, you’ll usually get paid. The constantly discontented passenger either got their ride cost refunded or maybe a gift card for future rides. Still, negative reviews can add up, and serious incidents (even if fraudulent), could cause the driver to be deactivated, often with little warning.
Before COVID adjustments, the Uber X and regular Lyft rides sat a max of four passengers—one up front, and three in the back. In order to take more people at the same time, the rider would have to opt for the XL rides, which are often minivans or SUVs with third rows. They’re a little more expensive, but hey, it’s reasonable to pay for a big car for the rider and everybody in the friend group to ride together.
This scam works two ways. The first is simply people trying to “sneak” in and cram too many people into a car. Back when I first started, I was more lenient, and let people maybe cram four or five people in the back seat. After all, customer service is key, and I figured that passengers like that would tip bigger because I let them skirt the rules. First, they often don’t really tip. Then I learned, not only is that hell on my vehicle’s interior, but if I were to get in a wreck, I am in a liability gray area because not every person has a seatbelt. If I were to have an accident, insurance would be a complete nightmare.
The second way is a little different. Uber and Lyft XL drivers do not just take XL rides, they’ll take regular Uber and Lyft rides between XL calls. Some passengers with large parties know this. Instead of outright requesting for an Uber or Lyft XL, they’ll repeatedly request, then cancel regular Uber/Lyft rides until they get a vehicle that has a third row and can take everyone.
Luckily, the driver can file a support ticket and request a price adjustment, but that doesn’t stop the passenger from lying and trying to fight it. This little lie that makes it convenient for the riders directly cuts into the amount of money the driver makes on that ride. Furthermore, if the driver argues the point, the riders might threaten to leave poor reviews that could affect the rating.
I Never Got the Food (or Package) Scam
Doordash and Uber Eats drivers are not immune to scams just because they’re delivering food. This method is pretty self-explanatory. The driver delivers the food, yet the customers insist they never got it, netting them free meals.
This is not a victimless crime. If drivers get too many complaints of undelivered food, they could be deactivated from the service. That’s pretty bad karma just for a free meal, especially because many of these workers are just trying to make ends meet.
The trick method known as tip baiting is one of the last things I saw before I stopped driving in late 2020. A lot of delivery services tell drivers upfront what they’d likely make per that delivery before they accept. Some customers will put a large tip on their order, attracting drivers. After delivery, the customer has greatly reduced or removed the tip, and the driver is left with little or no course of action to combat the bait and switch. Grubhub and Instacart no longer allow users to remove tips after adding them, but tip bating is still possible with Uber Eats.
“Riders and drivers should never share personal account information, such as passwords or verification codes, with anyone,” an Uber representative said in an email. “We take the security of users’ accounts very seriously, and if users believe they have been scammed, we encourage them to report it to us so we can investigate and take action.”
Remember, Uber, Lyft, or any gig economy will never ask a driver for a password via email, text message, or over the phone. If you’re a gig worker who regularly deals with these apps, protect yourself, stay alert, and don’t get scammed.
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