Common taxi scams, and how to avoid them

Taxi drivers are a diverse lot. From the white-gloved drivers of Japan to the proud professionals of the United Kingdom and Ireland that must pass rigorous local geography tests before taking to the wheel, most are out to make an honest living. In other places, regulations are patchwork (or nonexistent) and drivers and operators may be looking for extra ways to separate you from your money.

If you find yourself hailing a taxi the old-fashioned way, beware these common taxi cab scams:

Broken machines. Before closing the door, double check the meter and credit card machine (if you plan to pay that way) are working. In some instances, rides are already priced at a flat rate (between New York’s airports and the city, for example), but in other cases, if the driver says the meter or machine is broken, it is easier for the driver to take advantage of you once you arrive. Drivers are loathe to pay fees charged by credit cards, which is why their machine may be conveniently “broken” once you arrive, leaving you scrambling for an ATM if you’re low on cash. If meters are not common or it is indeed broken, establish a price before darting off.

Scenic route. A smart move for those with a smartphone is to monitor your route in a mapping app as you go. While highway design, traffic congestion or construction work can make a circuitous route the best choice, there are some occasions where a driver knows that out-of-towners may have no idea if they are being taken for a ride (literally). If a driver asks how long you are in town, it is wise to say you have been there for a while or are familiar with the city. This might deter them from taking you on a roundabout drive to beef up the meter. Avoid saying you are leaving town soon (that same or the following day), which leaves little time for you to pursue further action if they cheat you.

No change. Someone driving around all day (even at the start of their shift) should have enough currency to make change for reasonably large bills. Forking over a $100 bill for a $10 ride is one thing, but if the driver says there is no change for a $20, red flags should be raised. It could be a bid to seek a higher tip. To avoid this petty trick, offer to have the driver wait while you seek out change (as your luggage is being unloaded). Never argue over price while your luggage is still in the trunk or while seated inside the car.

Sleight of hand. The truly no-good might even swap out bills that you hand over (especially for tourists unfamiliar with the currency) and say you gave a smaller bill rather than the larger one you used. Hand over bills one at a time if you are not familiar with the currency.

Keep in mind that many cities do indeed charge supplements for extra bags to and from the airport, or for trips on toll roads or nighttime travel. These are not necessarily a scam, although legally they should be posted somewhere in the car.  When in doubt, take down the driver’s license plate.

Missing bags. Keep an eye out to assure your bags are loaded. If you get inside without seeing them, you could arrive at your destination missing some valuables (perhaps sneakily snagged by another driver or cohort at your origin). Your driver may claim that he never saw your bag in the first place.

Baggage claim solicitations. If a driver approaches you in the arrivals area of an airport, be wary. Most airports require taxis to wait in an official queue, and licensed limo or sedan drivers are not allowed by many airports to solicit rides. If you cannot arrange transportation in advance to a new city, approach an information desk to ask where to get an official taxi, limo, shared shuttle or public transportation.

Driver recommendations. Never fall for this age-old trick. En route to your destination, the driver makes small talk in an effort to win you over. Once you’ve seemingly made a new pal, the driver suggests a pit stop at a recommended restaurant, shop or nightclub. Even if the passenger resists, the driver encourages a quick stop to “take a look.” The next thing you know, you’re being charmed by a shop owner or bar server with a free sample, but later pressured to buy something more. If you find yourself in this situation, mention that a local friend is meeting you at your destination and you cannot be late. Act like you are familiar with the area to avoid unwanted suggestions.

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