Taxi scams are present in every corner of the world including the developed countries and are in contrast to other travel scams, some of the easiest identify. Most taxi scams are carried out by unlicensed or unregulated drivers. They prey on unsuspecting passengers with their guard down and take advantage by over-charging them or stealing their luggage.
Certain variations of fraudulent taxi schemes are more advanced and involve multiple perpetrators. These advanced scams are frequent in touristy nations in developing countries.
Warning: The police will possibly not do anything if you’re caught up in a taxi scam. In any case, unless you write down the license plates and report the person, there’s very little chance you will ever be able to get your money back. In certain parts of the world, ripping off tourists is tolerated and the police will do nothing.
Who Are The Targets Of Taxi Scams?
- Tourists or lone travelers.
- Lost people.
- People who are visibly under the influence of a substance.
- Arrivals at airports, bus stations, railway stations, etc.
- The elderly.
- How To Prepare For Possible Taxi Scams
- Most Common Taxi Scams
- Top Tips To Avoid Getting Scammed
How To Prepare For Possible Taxi Scams
No matter where travelers roam in the world, there is a good chance that they have been taken for a ride at least once by an unscrupulous driver without even knowing it.
Far beyond the simple service of taking travelers from the airport to their hotel, there are many common ways that taxi, carpool or even limousine drivers can get a few extra dollars in surprising ways.
When utilizing a ground transportation service, it pays off to be vigilant and follow some guidelines:
- Never accept taxi offers at waiting halls at airports, bus stations or railways.
- Split your large bills at exchange offices to afford smaller fares. Double-check the currency is correct.
- Never accept flat-rate fees before entering taxis.
- Never enter unlicensed taxis (usually the taxis are marked yellow/white or has signs at the top).
- Check whether the fare is marked on the side of the car.
- Make sure the taxi-meter is on when you enter the taxi.
- Don’t agree to be taken to destinations outside your original destination.
- Purchase a local SIM card with mobile data to ensure you’re being driven in the correct direction.
- Book fares through taxi apps such as Uber, Lyft or Bolt.
Most Common Taxi Scams
When you land in a foreign country, assume you’re going to be charged a “foreigner’s premium” for things such as accommodation to taxi fares. When taxi drivers learn you’re foreign they will immediately attempt to overcharge for amounts they wouldn’t dream of charging locals. The simple reason is they can get away with it.
The prices can be inflated even if they’re using licensed taxi meters by making up excuses such as that there’s an extra charge for the night time or driving outside a certain “zone” in the city. If you agree on a pre-arranged rate and the taxi driver knows you’re foreign, they will take advantage and likely try to rip you off.
Solution: Research fares in advance. Call up your hotel and ask them how much it would cost to get from the airport to the hotel. In most cases they will tell you the average price for that distance, and your fare shouldn’t exceed the average by a significant margin.
There are taxi app alternatives such as Uber, Lyft and Bolt. These are apps that show you the total cost of the fare before you depart. If you’re visiting a country without access to taxi apps, always look up the average price online and make sure it matches the price you’re paying. Licensed taxis have their fares published on the taxi doors.
The Arrival Hall
In this scam, unlicensed drivers looking to rip off people go to stations with a lot of foreign arrivals such as airports, railway stations and bus stations where they push taxi services directly on passengers. These are locations where they target gullible foreigners who don’t know the local prices and extort them for prices far above the local average.
Taxi solicitors might be aggressive and offer their “taxi services” forcefully, especially on solo female travelers. Once the victim is lured in the taxi, they realize there is no taxi meter or any official marketing and they end up overcharged by a lot. In some cases they even make up an extra fare if the victim is driven at night, claiming it’s a “nightly surcharge”.
Solution: Ignore the solicitors and don’t say anything back. If they’re pushy give them a loud and clear “no”. Most of them will back away after you tell them you’re not interested. It’s wise to look up local taxi companies before you travel to a foreign country in order to arrange transfers once you make it into the country, to avoid unpleasant situations with unlicensed taxi drivers.
If you’re harassed in any developed country you can typically bring out the cops at the airport and ask them if the taxi service being offered is local and licensed. They’ll typically be ready to assist you on location. Also, never enter cars if there are other passengers in the car.
Once you land in a new country you typically have to exchange your home currency to the local currency at the exchange office. Most tourists tend to bring large notes and the exchange office gives them the largest local notes possible. This is to cover the huge amount of cash tourists typically bring on arrival.
Shrewd taxi drivers take advantage of new arrivals by waiting for them at airports and then fake that they’re unable to break the note once the victims try to pay in cash. The driver threatens the victim he will call the police if they don’t accept giving him the full large bill, and most of them agree to let the driver keep the bill.
Solution: Break up your large notes with small or moderate notes at the exchange office. This way you can pay the actual fare without making the driver feel uncomfortable or opening yourself up to scams. Most exchange offices will allow you to break up the money in any way you wish, as they only care to cover the full amount you gave them.
If you have a taxi driver who pretends to be licensed but claims that their taxi meter accidentally broke down, you’re likely going to be scammed. In some cases the drivers claim they forgot to turn it on and only make up a huge fare once they arrive at the destination.
The victim typically agrees to be driven because they’re already inside the taxi and don’t want to cause a fuss, so they end up paying the extortion fare once the driver arrives at their location.
Solution: Exit the taxi as soon as you notice the taxi meter is not working or the driver turned it off on purpose. There is only one reason they’re doing that: To scam you. If you’re traveling to a developing country where fares are cheap, you might be able to afford the scam fare without really caring much.
However, if you encounter this scam in a developed country you might be overcharged to the tune of a hundreds of dollars. Always make sure the taxi meter is running and don’t hesitate to tell the driver to stop and get out if you notice a dysfunctional taxi meter. Never pay before arriving at your destination.
If the taxi drivers notices they’re driving a clueless tourist, they might take them circling around the city until the taxi meter racks up a high charge. This means that even licensed and registered taxis can take advantage of tourists who don’t know the actual route. Some taxi drivers might even suggest changing the destination completely.
Solution: Always bring a GPS app such as Google Maps or purchase a local SIM card with data if you’re traveling for access to location services. This will tell you whether you’re going in the right direction or if the driver is driving you in circles. Communicate with the driver on the way to your destination and ask them questions along the way about how they’re helping you get to the destination.
In certain countries there will be taxi drivers connected to the mafia and other swindlers who specialize in taking advantage of tourists. If you’re traveling alone, you are more susceptible to these scams.
Usually the drivers start by inquiring about the purpose of your visit, how many times you’ve visited in the past, what your plans are, etc. In normal cases this is just chit chat, but in a dubious scam attempt, this is done to identify how vulnerable you are and how they can take advantage of you.
Solution: If you feel the taxi driver is not asking those questions out of courtesy, avoid talking to them. Tell them you’re not interested in a conversation and refuse any proposals they might have in terms of taking you places outside your destination. Many of them will get aggressive about their offers and you might have to put up a fight.
Change Of Driver
In certain countries if you go for a long trip, the driver might ask you to change the taxi and enter another taxi that will take you to your final destination. These drivers typically roam looking for tourists at airports or prominent hotels and they offer them deals before passing them off to their partners.
If the taxi driver is chatty and speaks perfect English, they usually pass the tourists off to a driver who can barely speak English and demands a huge rate at the end of the trip.
Solution: Refuse to get out of a taxi until you arrive at the final destination. If a taxi driver starts telling you stories about how they can’t drive you to the final destination and you need to enter another taxi from the same company, this is usually a trick to get you to pay double as you’ll have to pay the original driver too. Always make sure to end the ride with the original drive who took you on.
This scam unfolds in remote locations and it’s a bit movie-like but in some countries it’s common for drivers to drive off as soon as the passenger pays their fare and gets out of the car. Certain taxi drivers will wait near remote locations such as border crossings where they offer transfers to the nearest towns. Their targets are usually hikers, explorers and other adventurers.
Once they get there they charge the passenger for the fare and drive off with their luggage. The typical traveler packs relatively valuable items in their luggage case, and this could be more than an average monthly salary in undeveloped nations. Once they get the clothes and valuables they sell them off and move on to the next victim.
Solution: Always wait until the driver gets out of the car before you leave the car and slam the door. Never rush to get out of the car if you’re being driven to a remote location. You could potentially end up stranded on the street with your luggage missing. Make sure to wait until you pay them and tell them to leave the car at the same time. Most drivers get out of the car at the same time as the passenger.
If a taxi driver inquires about a tourist’s stay they will follow this up with questions about the hotel. They will try to convince you the hotel was closed and that they have a better alternative.
This scam is hard to fall for because clients usually check with their hotel a day before departure, so make sure to double-check if they’re telling the truth. Taxi drivers typically get a commission once they bring a customer to a shady hotel.
Solution: Double-check the hotel you booked is operational before you depart. Most hotels will have online reviews where tourists share their experience with the hotel. If the hotel is operational it will get recent reviews and you can read them to ensure its working. Any hotel that closed down wouldn’t allow bookings online. If you doubt the hotel is closed, call them up while you’re being driven. This way you can verify prior to arrival.
If you’re traveling with a group of friends, many taxi drivers will give you an advance fare for a location and then end up over-charging you or claiming the fare meant per person.
Example: You’re at the airport with 4 friends and a taxi driver offers to bring you to the city for a fixed fare of $15. Then once you get to the destination he claims the fare was $15 per person.
Solution: Never pre-arrange payments and do ask for a taxi meter. If you must pre-arrange the payment due to being located at a remote location, insist to pay the driver on the spot. This way they can’t over-charge you once you arrive at the destination. If the driver tries to over-charge you once you get to a destination, you can always call the police and pay him the original fare you agreed upon.
Top Tips To Avoid Getting Scammed
Photograph The License Plate
When you’re in a foreign country, don’t assume you won’t get scammed but prepare to get scammed. The fastest way to ensure you won’t get scammed by a taxi driver is to snap a photo of the license plate. Simply walk behind the car and take a photo of the license plate before you walk inside. This will take you 2 seconds to pull off on your phone.
Once you’re inside you’ll stop worrying the cab driver can get away with any kind of scam or stealing. Even if you don’t get scammed or lose something valuable such as a wallet or ID, you can use the license plate number to call the police and they will track down the driver and give you your money back.
Many taxi drivers are driving clients recklessly and over-charging them without the knowledge of their taxi company. If you’re the victim of a scam and you get over-charged, you can ask for help at your hotel and they’ll contact the taxi company for you. The taxi drivers will be fired or forced to apologize and hand back the money.
Research Fares In Advance
Research the fare for a shuttle between your airport and hotel. Most hotels and hostels offer shuttle services between the airport and their location. Always know the maximum amount you could pay when you’re in a certain location. This is a lot easier to calculate in under-developed countries than developed ones.
If the standard fare for a 5 mile drive is under $5 in the country, a driver might scam you for 5 or 10 times the amount if you’re not careful. However, once you do the research and you know how much the ride is actually worth, you’re less prone to falling for the scams.
Always research the average amount it costs to ride in the country and Google “shuttle services” to determine the transfer price between your bus station or airport. There are taxi wikis for each country where you can learn which taxies are licensed in that particular country. Note that certain countries don’t regulate their taxis at all. In these countries you’ll have to negotiate with drivers on your own.
If you’re in a rush and you’ve moving between different countries, you won’t have the time to research the average fare in a country. This is why you must consult with the locals. When you’re at the airport, approach a few security guards and information desks.
Ask them how much it would usually cost to get from the airport to the your destination. It’s wise to ask a few people, because they might give you conflicting information.
Example: In a developed country, a taxi from the airport to the city might cost $50 on average. However, a shuttle bus from the same airport costs as little as $3. The difference between taxi transfers and public transport can be immense. Do your research to save money.
Don’t Travel Alone
Avoid traveling alone if you’re not an experienced traveler because this makes you vulnerable. If you must travel alone, make it seem like you’re there with company. Dangerous taxi drivers who seek to exploit passengers will usually inquire about their status in the country and what they’re doing there. Friendly taxi drivers can also be scammers too.
Tell them you have friends in the country and that they’re expecting you to come soon. Don’t say you’re going by yourself and you don’t know what you’re doing in the country. Once the driver learns you have friends expecting you, they will be a lot more hesitant to pull funny tricks on you. Try to make up a new identity for yourself without giving the driver too many clues.
Remember you’ll never see the taxi driver again and if they scam you, you will likely never get your money back. You never know who you’re exposing yourself to when you travel alone, so keep that in mind before you reveal personal details.
Take Public Transport
The best way to not get into a taxi scam… is to not use taxis at all! Most people rely on taxis to get to their destination because they’re unsure how to get to their hotel from their airport. If you research your options in advance you might be able to negotiate shuttle transfers with your hotel for a lower price than you thought possible.
It’s better to take public transport from the airport into the urban core of the city and then take a cab once you’re inside the city limits, than get ripped off on long journeys as most airports are located in remote areas outside the city.