Taxi Scams – Domestic and International
Ever wonder if you got ripped-off a taxi driver, especially overseas? While you hope that all taxi drivers are honest, law abiding citizens, who would never take advantage of an innocent traveler you know that is not case in many locations. Travelers fall victim to overcharging by dishonest taxi drivers everywhere including here in the U.S.
The following is information to help reduce your chances of falling victim to taxi scams including of some of the most common taxi cab rip off scams used around the world. Note that these taxi scams are broken down by continent, but an overcharging scam that is known in Brazil might also be used in Barcelona, Spain, so have a quick read of all of the taxi scams, being an inform traveler can only help you.
Ask airport or hotel personnel general taxi questions
- You can also ask these same resources what is the typical price range to your destination and the appropriate amount to tip for the area. Some drivers will charge you a metered, per-person rate. Other cabbies will try to tack on surcharges for baggage, rush-hour service, or additional passengers. Find out if these unusual fees are to be expected in the area you are traveling through before getting in the cab. Also, be on the lookout for drivers in foreign countries who expect you to haggle over fares. In these cases, negotiate your price first.
Independent, non-licensed drivers are not obliged to follow industry regulations, though they will try and tempt you with lower fares. If you can’t distinguish a legit company from a fraudulent one, inquire at the airport information desk or your hotel’s concierge desk. They might also be able to help you with any communication problems you may encounter–if you don’t know the language, have a local write down your destination on a piece of paper for the cab driver to read.
- Hotel staff or your host can tell you the typical price range to your destination and the appropriate amount to tip.
- Many dispatchers can also tell you the price, so get a quote ahead of time if you can.
- Consider using a taxicab estimator which will give you a ball park price of the cab ride before you get in. Taxi Cab Finder http://www.taxifarefinder.com/ is a website that you can pull up on your phone or on your computer before you leave. While it may not have every city in the world, it has many large cities within the U.S
Before you get in a taxi
- Take a business card with you when you go out with the phone number of a reputable minicab or taxi company, and phone for the cab when you need it. Alternatively, walk to a nearby minicab office to order a cab.
- Try not to let anyone overhear you ordering a cab – if they hear your name and destination, they may pretend to be the cab you’ve ordered.
- Never get into a taxi alone if you’ve had too much to drink. While it may seem like the right decision at the time – only do so with someone else. Reason being, if you’re drunk, the ride in the cab may put you to sleep. The drink may also put you into a semi-conscious state – you can have your money stolen without your knowledge, or worst circumstance – you may not be able to defend yourself from the driver if they try to harm you, or call someone to meet the cab and take advantage of you. Riders have been raped, beaten, robbed, and even killed after getting into a taxi when they’re helplessly drunk.
Once you get in a taxi
- Most important – never enter a taxi with someone else in the passenger seat. No matter what the reason they’re there, it can mean no good for you and it’s commonly a way that travelers get robbed, kidnapped, raped, and murdered.
- Once you stand at the cab door, but just before you get in, ask the driver how much the fair will be. He/she should be able to generally give you an amount – but take into account that if the driver charges by time, traffic might impact the final fair. Having a good idea of what you should have to pay up front, which can mean less hassle when it’s time to pay the bill.
- Ask the driver to take you on the cheapest, most direct route. Bring along a map of the area (you can pick up a free copy at any major car-rental desk) and point the route out to him if he goes astray.
- When you get in the cab, sit in the backseat, behind the driver – not in the passenger seat – especially if you are a woman. In the backseat, you’re less visible to the driver and to passersby as well. If you’re traveling solo, sitting in the middle puts you farther out of reach too. The less accessible you are, the less likely you’ll be targeted. If you are one that gets car sick easily, take a motion sickness pill at time that lets it take effect prior to getting into the cab.
- Know where you’re going ahead of time. Have an idea where you’re going ahead of time, and approximately how long it will take to get there. You can easily look this up online or on your smartphone, but be realistic about your knowledge of the area. While the taxi driver may know a better route or one that avoids toll booths, if you’re headed the wrong way entirely feel free to get out at the first opportunity. If you decide to abandon the taxi, toss money into the front seat (in case you’re mistaken) and all will be well. The taxi driver isn’t going to chase you down.
- If you are going to a friend’s house, you could phone to let them know that you’ve ordered a cab, where you’ve ordered it from and the name of the company so that they know when to expect you and how to trace you if you’re late.
- Ask for driver ID before getting into the car. Make sure it identifies the driver as being from the company you rang to order the car. Ask the driver the name and destination he has been given to check he is your driver – do not, for example, ask if he is picking up Maria and Paul as anyone could confirm that they are there to pick them up. Don’t get into a cab you haven’t ordered.
- Make note of the cab number which is usually found on a placard inside the cab. Make a comment to the driver something to the effect of “cab number 3281, that my phone number – this must be a lucky cab – I won’t forget this cab number. While not guaranteed, if a dishonest cab driver were to try and rip you off, he/she might think twice because you may remember his cab number – most passengers don’t remember their cab number.
- Make sure the driver hasn’t left any time on the meter. If he has, ask him to turn it to zero. Then, request a signed receipt, specifying pick-up and drop-off points. This will make him think twice about taking any “secret shortcuts,” and it will give you more leverage if you’re forced to report your driver to the taxi authority.
- Ride with the windows closed, or nearly so, and your phone handy. Thieves are always looking for easy targets, so with a little effort, you can make yourself a less easy target and they’ll move on to someone else. Keeping the window rolled up seems like a small thing to do, but from a thief’s point of view, every stop along the way is an opportunity to reach in, open even a locked door, and take things from you. The downside is the lack of fresh air, but in some cities that’s not a downside. You can always roll the window down a little more when you’re perhaps on the highway and away from the stoplights.
- Keep expensive items hidden and keep your things close. You may think very little of the cost related to some of your mobile devices, but in a developing country a smartphone is easy to grab and even easier to sell. If you’re working a mobile device while waiting for the taxi or at a stoplight, you may think you’re being efficient, but you’re also flashing a target for potential thieves. All a thief needs is 20 seconds at the next stoplight to reach in and take it. Store your mobile devices and cameras in your bags and zip them up (the one exception is your phone – keep that close). Then, keep your purse, backpack, or other bags close to you – preferably on the floor between your feet where they’re hard to see and even harder to reach. You can even place your leg through the longer straps. Just remember to untangle before you try to exit the taxi!
- If the driver is driving way to fast for your comfort, know that saying,
“Please slow down,” is better than, “Hey go slow!” The same holds with directions: the clearer, the better.
- Respect the cabby’s choices. It’s unwise to tell driver, “Turn off the music,” since that could antagonize your driver. Ditto with a choice of directions: Unless it’s a route clearly designed to ratchet up miles, which path you take to your destination is hardly worth arguing about.
- Pick your fights carefully. Some things aren’t worth a confrontation; others are. For example, getting over-billed is something that’s often best taken up with a regulatory agency (if there is one).
- Know who to call in an emergency. If you’re in a foreign country, now the local equivalent of dialing 911 – this is why it’s good to keep your phone out of sight but handy.
What to say to a taxi driver
- When you get into the cab or shuttle, tell the driver your destination. When he pulls out of the parking space, say something like, “You’re going to take so-and-so boulevard to the hotel, right? You know, past the ATT building?” (You’ll have known this information from your pre-trip research.)
- But by asking this type of leading question, the driver won’t know that this is your first visit. He’ll think you’ll recognize—and be suspicious of—any route variations. He may test you and say, “First time in this country?” or “Returning here on business?” Disregard any such questions and say politely, “Really, I need to get there. I have a briefing I have to prepare for.” Then casually look at a document or two in your briefcase.
- By doing this, you have presented him reasonable doubt. He won’t know whether you are familiar with the area and its schemes and scams, or if you’re a first-timer. And you won’t have offended him; you’ll just have taken control of the environment.
How to pay for a taxi
- Be sure to have small bills on hand to prevent the cab driver from helping himself to an exorbitant tip.
- Pay when inside the taxi, with the door closed to prevent a 16 year old track start from walling buy as you are paying, reaching in and stealing your wallet or purse, and running away.
- Know your local currency. In some countries, the currency changes and unscrupulous drivers may return your change in discontinued or worthless bills. Know enough about the local currency to identify the bills and coins you should use for payment. If you aren’t sure, check with a local (your host, or a hotel concierge can help you) before you enter the cab.
General Taxi Scam Cab Tips
Airport and Train Stain Taxi Scams
Dishonest taxi drivers know that they have a good chance of ripping of a tourist when they depart an airport or train station. The travelers are usually tired, sometimes disoriented, have usually never been to the city before, and generally just go along with what the taxi driver says. Here are few tips to consider to reduce your chances of being ripped off by a taxi driver when arriving at an airport or train station.
- Go to the Information desk in the airport arrival area, they might have helpful information, such as the proper fare to hotels, or special hotel buses.
- DO NOT accept rides from unknown people soliciting taxi rides who hang around the arrival doors looking for bewildered foreigners.
- Stand in line at the designated taxi boarding area. This applies to stations and large hotels as well.
- After getting in the taxi, immediately look for a card showing applicable tariffs.
- Even if in a language that you don’t understand, they clearly show day-time and night-time (sometimes also holiday) tariffs, each with starting rate, and rate per kilometer (km).
- Check that the driver has started the meter and that it shows correct tariff number and starting rate.
- If he hasn’t and refuses to correct, immediately call a supervisor or policeman, if one is visible.
- Look for a card with taxi number and driver’s name. Often located near meter or above rear-view mirror.
- Ostentatiously write down the number and name (and a telephone number if there is one).
- Keep a watch on the meter to make sure that the driver doesn’t change tariffs while on route!
- At your destination, pay the amount shown on the meter, hopefully you have small currency. A favorite trick is lack of change!
- Additions for extra luggage or for special airport or station tax may be legitimate. Request the driver to show them on the tariff card.
UNITED STATES TAXI SCAMS
Times Two Scam
Somewhat less amusing is the “times two” hustle. Suppose you and your friend have tickets for a big soccer match in Rio. The stadium is far across town so you hail a cab. You’re wise enough to reach agreement on a price before you enter the cab. But when you reach the stadium, the cab driver demands double the price you agreed to, insisting that the price he quoted was for one person, not two people. You think there might have been a genuine misunderstanding. There wasn’t. It’s a common scam! If you decide to object, ostentatiously write down the taxi’s license number. Mention the police. It’s important to stay calm because losing your temper could turn bystanders against you. Move the discussion off the street and into a store or hotel lobby if you can. If you want help, ask a clerk to call a police officer. The more time you take up, the more likely the driver is to hit the road. Always keep perspective. A small amount of money doesn’t justify spoiling your day, let alone missing the soccer match.
In the future, avoid this type of scam by making sure – before the cab ride starts – what the total fare will be, including all passengers and fees. Some travelers even write the amount down on a piece of paper to show the driver if language is a big issue.
GENERAL INTERNATIONAL TAXI SCAMS
This is probably the number one way how travelers are ripped off – the use of, or not the use of the taxi meter. These types of scams happen all over the world, and are not confined to anyone country or continent for that matter.
Taxi drivers all of the world can be difficult to deal with. If you don’t insist that they use the meter, you might end up being overcharged. They usually prefer not to use the meter so they can give an unfair price, which you, being a tourist, are not aware of. The best course of action would be not to get in the taxi unless the driver agrees to use the meter. Don’t let them pressure you into giving in.
TAXI SCAMS IN ASIA
Like all Asian countries, there are several scams that will be found across the country.
One of the key strategies to avoiding taxi scams in Bangkok is to catch a driver who is on the move. Dishonest taxi drivers are notorious for parking outside high end hotels and those frequented by Americans and they are usually just waiting to prey on innocent American travelers. These friendly taxi drivers hang around tourist hotels all day offering their services as a “Hotel Taxi”. Generally, these thieves drive cars that bear no resemblance to a taxi cab, speak good English and appear like magic whenever you leave your hotel. Often, you may find these taxi thieves charging the equivalent of an airport fare to travel just a few blocks from the location you are departing from.
Know that many of these dishonest taxi drivers will do their best to talk you into going “shopping” for silk or gemstones. Stay away from these guys.
There are several taxicab schemes in Bangkok which have been known for years, however you should also know that many of these which look and to you seem as real taxi scams are quite legal in Bangkok. Newcomers to Bangkok will often be whisked away toward downtown from the airport on the elevated toll way (an additional 40 baht) rather than the often uncongested lower expressway. Drivers often take longer routes to destinations. And you should never enter a taxi if there’s anyone else except the driver inside. And don’t be surprised if the taxi driver has a breakdown and asks you to get out and help push-start the car. Say “bye-bye” to your luggage.
Official taxis here come in several colors. All of them carry a rooftop sign that reads “taxi-meter,” which lights up after dark (and goes off to indicate the cab is occupied). The flag drop should be 35 baht (92 cents) for the first two kilometers, then between 4.50 baht and 5.50 baht for each kilometer after that.
Visitors arriving at Bangkok’s international airport should note that the “Airport Taxi Service” sign posted at a counter facing the arrival lounge is not for metered service. This service will charge you at least 450 baht, or nearly twice as much as a regular taxi. The metered taxi counter is outside the terminal.
Motorcycle-taxi drivers distinguish themselves with brightly colored vests, usually numbered.
To the chagrin of non-Chinese speakers, inexperienced hacks also ply the streets of Shanghai, where the turnover rate among taxi drivers is very high. Among the six major taxi operators, Qiangsheng (6258-0000), which has a fleet of yellow cabs, and Dazhong (6218-8888, 6258-1688) whose cars are blue, are the most reputable. Their taxis are generally cleaner and newer, and the drivers tend to be more experienced than those working for other companies. Nine out of 10 cabs here are locally made Shanghai Volkswagen’s.
Of the 36,000 taxis crisscrossing China’s business capital, about 1,000 boast a red roof, an indication that the driver has won government endorsement for good service and a safe driving record.
The tired traveler flies into flower-filled Changi Airport and instantly feels at ease. Everything is neat, clean, functional, and aesthetic. Rules are adhered to in Singapore. The streets are as safe to walk as the tap water is to drink. So what kind of thief can operate in such a city state? The traveler collects his luggage and changes a little money at the airport booth, then jumps in a taxi to the hotel. “Fifteen dollars,” the driver might say as he pulls up to Raffles or the Regent or the Mandarin; and in most cases, the visitor will pay and that will be that. A surprising number of American tourists, though, whose first sense of Singapore is not exotic and foreign at all, but rather resembles the modern city in which they live, happily pay in U.S. dollars. What taxi driver will refuse an instant bonus of thirty percent? That tourist has been self-ripped, and the driver is hardly to blame.
More devious, though, is the driver or shop clerk who slips a Malaysian bill into the stack of Singapore bills he gives you as change. The pink Malaysian bill looks remarkably similar to the pink Singapore ten-dollar note. So similar, in fact, that the passing of it could be just an accident. But at ten ringgits, the Malaysian note is worth only half the value of the Singapore one.
The most common taxi scams are taking you the long way around or “modified” meters. Either way, there’s little you can do if you don’t know your way around. You must pay what’s on the meter. In Ho Chi Minh City the only taxis that have never given me any problems are the yellow “Vinataxi” cabs. One other common occurrence is the driver “not having enough change”. This is common with cyclos and motorbike taxis, too. Always try to keep a supply of smaller notes on you.
Since the economic crisis engulfed this country in 1997, a ride in a taxi has become a luxury to most Indonesians. So finding a taxi in Jakarta is easy — it’s finding a reliable one that’s a challenge.
Twenty-nine taxi companies operate in the city. Blue Bird (794-1234, 798-1001), Kosti Jaya (780-1333), Citra (781-7233) and Express (576-1313) are considered the best, if only because their air conditioning usually works. It pays to be sharp-eyed, however. A whole raft of less respectable companies paint their fleets blue to try to pass as Blue Bird.
Tampering with meters and driving in circles are the most common scams. Criminals are known to masquerade as taxi drivers, so it’s worth taking a moment to match the face of a driver to the license hanging over the dashboard. Avoid hailing taxis off the street in seedier districts.
The normal flag drop is 2,000 rupiah (26 cents) for standard service and 2,500 for luxury service, such as that offered by Silver Bird, a unit of Blue Bird that boasts large cars. At night, it’s best to order a taxi by telephone. Haggling over fares isn’t the norm if you choose a reputable taxi service. However, if you’re traveling a short distance, even honest drivers are likely to demand a minimum of 5,000 rupiah. (75 cents)
The standard fare for the 25-minute journey from Jakarta’s Sukarno-Hatta International Airport to town is about 25,000 rupiah. Blue Bird and other reputable companies have booths outside the arrivals area.
In Manila, too, taxis parade in an assortment of colors. But as of Jan. 1, they’ll be easier to identify amid the sea of cars on Manila’s bustling streets. All new taxis must be white, according to a government order.
Avis (532-0605, 532-5758) and R&E Taxi (363-1889, 364-9058, 364-9089) are among the most reputable metered taxi services. Both operators have stands outside major hotels in Manila’s business district, Makati. Hailing a taxi on the street is usually a breeze.
As in Bangkok, drivers are unlikely to let traffic regulations get in the way of a fare: Taxis can be hailed any time, anywhere. Flag fall should be 20 pesos (51 cents) for the first half-kilometer. After that, one peso is charged for every 200 meters. There’s only one exception: When it pours and cabs are in short supply, you can expect to pay double the normal fare, or get drenched.
For first-time visitors, it’s worth paying extra to hire a taxi from a hotel counter at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. These taxis tend to be safer than those waiting outside the airport, if only because a dispatcher jots down the license plate number of each departing cab. The Shangri-La Hotel, for example, charges 340 pesos.
Unless you have money to burn, forget taking a taxi from Narita, Tokyo’s international airport, to downtown. The 80-minute journey by cab will set you back as much as 20,000 yen ($174), and it isn’t any faster than taking a train or a bus, both of which cost around 3,000 yen.
Fast meters seem to be a problem virtually everywhere in Asia — except Japan. Tokyo taxis are among the safest in the world, too. Aside from fares that make your hair stand on end, the only hazard is encountering drivers who don’t know their way around.
Japan’s recession has thrown many a worker out of his or her salaried job and behind the wheel of a cab. As a result, these days, more and more people in a hurry complain about encounters with inexperienced drivers. If you’re heading to an unfamiliar destination, it pays to carry a map — for the driver. If you’re lucky, however, you may hop into a cab that’s equipped with a satellite navigation system.
LATIN AMERICA TAXI SCAMS
Taxi drivers in Brazil (except in São Paulo) are notorious for trying to stiff tourists, but there are things you can do to ensure you’re treated fairly. Know where you’re going—have your destination and the best route written in Portuguese on a piece of paper; check the rates (posted on the back window); make sure that the taxi meter starts when the car does; and be aware that the special air-conditioned taxis parked in front of finer hotels usually cost almost twice as much as standard taxis. If you’re hailing your own taxi, stand on the curb and point your index finger down, not up.
Mexico Taxicab Crime
Robbery assaults on passengers in taxis are frequent and violent, with passengers subjected to beating, shootings and sexual assault. U.S. citizens visiting Mexico City should absolutely avoid taking any taxi not summoned by telephone or contacted in advance at the airport. When in need of a taxi, telephone a radio taxi or “sitio” (pronounced “C-T-O”). Ask the dispatcher for the driver’s name and the cab’s license plate number. If you walk to a “sitio” taxi stand, use only a driver known to you. Ask the hotel concierge or other responsible individual calling on your behalf to write down the license plate number of the cab that you entered. Passengers arriving at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport should take only airport taxis (yellow, with an airport symbol on the door) after pre-paying the fare at one of the special booths inside the airport. Radio taxis may be called at tel. 5-271-9146, 5-271-9058, and 5-272-6125 (within Mexico). U.S. citizens should avoid taking taxis parked outside the Bellas Artes Theater, in front of nightclubs, restaurants or cruising throughout the city.
Taxi cabs in Mexico City are a good way of getting to specific locations, but there are some guidelines you should follow to avoid being overcharged. There are several official cab lines which operate in the city, any of which should be fine to use. Always look for a cab that is yellow, tan, or green and gray. All official taxis will have a plastic roof signs which say TAXI, and will have TAXI or SITIO painted on the doors. They will also have meters. Be sure to keep your eye out for drivers stating that their meter is broken or drivers going past your destination to run up the fare, these are just two of the many scams taxi drivers have been known to commit, so beware! If the driver says his meter is not working, politely decline and find another cab. Dishonest cab drivers are the exception and not the rule, so don’t be afraid to use a taxi, as most will be fair.
EUROPE TAXI SCAMS
There are several types of taxi scams that take place all over Europe, and since the EU has opened up many of the borders, likewise, many of the scams can be found in all of the countries. While there are few that seem to be localized in certain countries, you should make yourself familiar of most of these to make sure you know about them before you get in the cab.
Taxi Cab Luggage Rip Off
This type of scam is not as frequent as it use to be, and for some time most of the reports seem to come from former eastern bloc countries, but you still should be aware of it. You get in a taxi at the airport or train station and ask to be taken to your hotel. You put your bags into the taxi trunk and are driven to the hotel. When you arrive, you pay the driver, get out off the taxi and close the door. As you begin to walk back to the taxi trunk, the taxi driver drives away with all of your bags in the trunk.
To combat this, try to keep your luggage in the seat next to you, or pay the taxi driver once he gets your luggage out of the trunk. In the end, ask the driver if he can help take your luggage out of the trunk, and make sure he gets out of the taxi before you do.