Travel

The Biggest Uber, Lyft, and Taxi Scams — and How to Avoid Them

ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

Nothing starts a vacation like arriving in a new place, jumping in a car, and immediately getting ripped off. WELCOME TO OUR CITY, SUCKER! As dastardly as taxi scams are, they’re one of the most common ways people get swindled, and with the advent of Uber and Lyft, a whole load of new tricks have arisen in the past few years.

Whether you’re a tourist traveling abroad or just an innocent local taking a car around your own patch, here are the scams to watch out for — and how to defuse them.

The straight-up cash grab

While traveling over a toll road, bridge, or any other public thoroughfare that charges a fee, the driver tells you to pony up some cash to cover the cost. Or demands cash for an airport fee. Or anything, really.

How to avoid it: The cool thing about apps is that EVERYTHING is included in the fare, so a driver should never ask for cash. Explain this to your driver, in a calm, polite and don’t-fuck-with-me kind of way. If he asks for a credit card, don’t give him that either, and when the trip ends, show him the breakdown of the fare on your app.

Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com
Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com
Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com

The never-ending meter

A ride-share drops you off, but doesn’t end the trip. Your ride continues all the way back to the driver’s house 45 miles away. Your $12 trip now costs $87.

How to avoid it: Don’t leave the ride until the trip is ended on your app. If the driver hasn’t ended it, politely ask her to.

The unrequested upgrade

You order an UberX for you and a couple of friends. The car shows up and it’s a perfectly nice Honda Civic that gets you where you want to go. The next day you get a notification from Uber that due to the number of people in your party, your ride was upgraded to an UberXL, and your fare is almost doubled.

How to avoid it: You CAN be charged more if your party (and your luggage in some cases) exceeds the capacity of the vehicle class. This prevents six people with 20 suitcases from ordering a compact car and thinking it’s cool. So if you did that, don’t complain. Some crooked drivers abuse this, though. If it happens to you, protest the upgrade and explain the situation to the company. If during the ride you think you might be at risk, take photos inside the car which you can use to prove your point later, if it comes to that.

lazyllama/Shutterstock.com
lazyllama/Shutterstock.com
lazyllama/Shutterstock.com

The re-request

You get in the car and the driver mumbles something like “the app messed up,” and asks you to re-request the ride. Magically, the fare has gone up 35%, because surge pricing has just come into effect. The app did not mess up.

How to avoid it: Never, EVER, re-request a ride without first going into your app to see if the app really did “mess up.” Over 99% of the time, it didn’t, and since the driver didn’t want to cancel (and lose money), he’s asking you to do it. Simply say “it seems to be working fine on my app,” and ask to see his phone. If you want to be extra diligent, screenshot your first fare estimate and send it to the ride-share company — they will adjust the fare.

Leon Neal/Getty Images News
Leon Neal/Getty Images News
Leon Neal/Getty Images News

The game of cancellation chicken

This typically happens around airports, where drivers will sit in the cell phone area or short-term parking with their app on. You call a ride and the car looks like it’s RIGHT THERE, but it doesn’t move. Five minutes later, it’s still there, so you call to see what’s up, and nobody answers. Then you get a text saying “I’ll be there in three minutes!” Three minutes later, no car. You cancel, and get assessed a $5 fee. The driver repeats the process all day while listening to soccer.

How to avoid it: Ride-share services will almost always give you a $5 credit if you protest a cancellation, but it’s still aggravating to have to request another ride. Cancellation fees apply in two minutes now, instead of five, so if you see a car hasn’t moved within the first minute after you ordered it, give the driver a call. If he doesn’t pick up, cancel. Hopefully you get in under the wire. Or at least save yourself some time.

Miro Vrlik Photography/Shutterstock.com
Miro Vrlik Photography/Shutterstock.com
Miro Vrlik Photography/Shutterstock.com

The mysterious meter “malfunction”

The taxi you get into has a meter that either isn’t on or isn’t on display. Or, in some cases, is hidden in the glove box and shows some magical, made up number when you get to your destination. The driver demands a random amount, which is probably more than it would have cost if the meter was on.

How to avoid it: Never, EVER get in a cab without a meter. Pretty simple, but you’d be surprised how many people when traveling to foreign countries think stuff like “They must just not use meters in Brazil. How colorful!” Also, do a little research into how much rides cost wherever you’re going, and if you’re asked for more, give them the rate you understand to be fair. If there’s a problem, tell them to call the police — 100% of the time, they won’t.

The phantom mess

Somehow your $20 ride-share home late Saturday night turned into $170, thanks to a unilaterally assessed “cleaning fee,” even though the only mess you left was a couple of McDonald’s French fries.

How to avoid it: Drivers must provide photographic evidence that you trashed their car, so it’s a hard thing to fake. But some drivers aren’t above putting plastic vomit (yep, you can buy that stuff) on their seats for a quick 150 bucks. The only way to fully protect yourself is to take pictures of the inside of the car every time you leave, and always check your fares and credit card immediately so you can protest in a timely manner.

Aku Alip/Shutterstock.com
Aku Alip/Shutterstock.com
Aku Alip/Shutterstock.com

The fake “jitney”

A driver comes up to you at baggage claim and says “You need an Uber?” Seeing a taxi line of 200 people and feeling that 15-degree wind chill, you say sure. He proceeds to charge you $75 for a ride into the city center, when it should only cost $35. You might think this is an obvious sucker move and simple to avoid, but last year Uber estimated this happened 2,300 times EVERY WEEK on trips from LaGuardia, Newark, and JFK alone.

How to avoid it: Nowhere on Earth do ride-share services operate by soliciting rides in baggage claim. Fake airport drivers have been around for years, but now they have a brand name (and sometimes even a nifty window decal) to make them seem more legit. They’re still con artists. Only get in a car from the airport taxi stand, or a ride-share you call to the designated area.

The Lyftjack

Fake drivers will roam the streets looking for people who look like they’re waiting for a car (standing on street corners, staring at their phones, then back at the street, then back at their phones, then squinting at license plates). They’ll pull up and ask if you’re waiting for a ride, hoping you get in. If you ask why the make and model of the car don’t match up to what’s on your app, they’ll claim “the system messed up.” Then they’ll ask if you can just pay in cash or credit once you get to your destination.

How to avoid it: The app has the make, model, and license plate of your assigned ride. If it doesn’t match, don’t get in. As a double precaution, ask the driver’s name or get them to tell you your name, which they won’t know if they’re an imposter.

Sergey_R/Shutterstock
Sergey_R/Shutterstock
Sergey_R/Shutterstock

The broken credit card machine

In the US, nearly every taxi is equipped to take credit cards. Drivers hate them, of course, because they lose 3% or so on every ride. Sometimes they try telling you “the machine is offline/broken,” and offer to take you to an ATM so you can pay cash. And they’ll usually leave the meter on the whole time you’re on the diverted route, too. BONUS SCAM: They’ll leave the meter on while they boot up the mysteriously-now-working credit card machine, adding wait time to your fare.

How to avoid it: When the ride starts, politely inform the taxi driver you’ll be paying with a credit card. It avoids a lot of awkwardness at the end, and quashes any scamming. Insist the meter be turned off the minute you reach your destination, so you don’t get charged wait time while the machine boots up. And if the driver is really insistent on you paying cash, don’t let the meter run while you find an ATM.

The scenic route

A taxi picks you up at the airport and takes you on a 7-mile ride to your hotel, which is called “Days Inn – Airport.” It has a sweeping view of the control tower, and you wonder why it took half an hour to get there.

How to avoid it: You’d think this scam would be obsolete in the era of GPS and maps applications. But then you’d underestimate the nerve of some cab drivers. Even if you pull out your phone and say “Hey! Why are you taking me miles out of the way,” they’ll tell you something about avoiding traffic or knowing “the side streets.” Your best bet is to demand they take the route your app tells you to take, and if there is in fact traffic, well that’s on you, chief.

Chain898/Shutterstock.com
Chain898/Shutterstock.com
Chain898/Shutterstock.com

The ditch

On a particularly busy night (New Year’s, Halloween, right after the Super Bowl) you call a ride-share early to avoid surge pricing. Your ride pulls up, looks at you, then drives right by and you get a notification saying the ride has been canceled. You order a new ride, and it now costs three times as much.

How to avoid it: Sadly, there’s no way to avoid getting ditched. If your driver is an opportunistic asshole, well, they’ll get found out eventually. To help bring them down, you can take down their info and report them to the service — if the complaints against them stack up, sooner or later they’ll get fired. You, on the other hand, may as well go back inside and keep drinking until prices get back to normal.

Carl Forbes/Shutterstock.com
Carl Forbes/Shutterstock.com
Carl Forbes/Shutterstock.com

The foreign currency fakeout

Knowing full well you can’t tell a 50,000 Boliviano note from a 500,000 Boliviano note, your taxi driver claims that you handed him a smaller bill than you actually did. Then he gives you considerably less change than you deserve, or asks for more money.

How to avoid it: Look at the bills carefully before you hand them over and say out loud “I’m handing you 500,000 Bolivianos. Please give me 100,000 Bolivianos in change.” If you don’t speak the language, type out the number on your phone and make sure the driver understands that you know how much you’re handing him, and how much you want back.

The account theft

Someone buys your login info off the dark web and starts taking rides on your virtual dime.

How to avoid it: Ride-share account info isn’t exactly protected like nuclear codes, and while Uber and Lyft do their best to prevent data breaches, it can happen. Check your account regularly to make sure your ride history lines up with the journeys you’ve taken — if there’s any discrepancy, report it immediately. Just make sure it’s a ride you didn’t take, and not just one you don’t remember.Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer to Thrillist who has fallen for all of these at least twice. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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