7+1 Taxi Scams Every Traveler Should Know

taxi roof sign

Taxis, along with tuk-tuks and rickshaws, are among the most popular transportation options for travellers and tourists in big cities.

Their services might offer a sense of safety, as someone else handles the driving while we can just relax in the relative privacy of the backseats. That’s why it’s easy to get distracted and fall prey to potential scams.

In this article, we’ll cover the seven most common taxi scams and try to offer some tips to help you avoid them.

1) The Tourist Trap Tour

Drivers might tell you that they know the “best place” to go for shopping or to eat or drink something and will insist on taking you there.

It’s usually a particular restaurant or a very restricted area where goods and services will be ridiculously overpriced. The classic tourist traps areas (Coming Soon).

Drivers will get a cut of all the goods that you buy.

How to avoid it:
BEFORE you get in the cab make sure that the driver will take you where you want and don’t agree to any of their alternatives. Especially if they insist.

If they do take you to those tourist traps pay the fare, leave the taxi and walk away without going in the shop/restaurant or buying anything.

Or prepare yourself to bargain.

a row of parked tuk tuks
Tuk-tuks. (Credit - Markus Winkler via Pexels)

2) Missing Bags

Taking advantage of a moment of distraction, the driver might pass your luggage to an accomplice and then, upon arrival, deny having ever seen it.

How to avoid it:
Keep an eye on the trunk when your luggage is being loaded and while the vehicle is stationary.

It’s quite rare but being cautious never hurts, especially if you travel with a lot of luggage.

3) Broken Taximeter, Extra Fees, and Arbitrary Fares

The most common Taxi Scam. 

Some drivers might fake a broken taximeter or just refuse to use it, only to charge exorbitant fares when you arrive.

Overpriced fares scams typically but not exclusively take place on “fixed fare routes”, such as those from airports to city centers. While many cities implement cap policies like “flat fares” to prevent overcharging, some driver might have different opinions and ask much more than the established rate.

They might even try to charge some extra fees for normal baggage or apply “per person” rates.

There is also the risk that the taximeter has been tampered with to make you pay more. However, such practices should be generally less frequent among licensed taxi services.

How to avoid it:
Before calling or hailing a taxi, research the average fares for your intended routes, or at least for the next trip you plan to make.

As mentioned, some cities ensure fixed fares conventions for certain key routes. Seek information from official channels or other reliable sources before taking your ride.

Always agree on how much it should cost BEFORE you get in the vehicle, even a cost range would be acceptable. Make sure it aligns with the average rate or the standard fixed price when applicable.

When mandatory by the local law, don’t trust those who tell you that their taximeter is broken. Look for another taxi if possible.

A taxi door with flat fare and taximeter signs printed on
Taxi signs; Taximeter and Flat Fare. (Credit - Ono-Kosuki via Pexels)

4) Note Swich and Wrong Change

After receiving the payment, the driver might try to return an incorrect change back, less than the due amount.

Giving you their back for a moment to change the banknote received, they will then show you a lower value, pretending that that is the payment you gave. They will not give you any change and may even urge you to pay something more.

Sometimes they might just skip the act and hand you less change than you’re owed, hoping you won’t notice due to being distracted, tired, or unfamiliar with the local currency.

Also, drivers might pretend they do not have the change and claim for keeping any big bills received as payment.

A sure sign of this scam is if the drivers suddenly acts as if they can’t understand anything you’re saying as soon as payment is involved.

the last one is the reddest flag for this scam.

How to avoid it:
As always, being familiar with the local currency is an advantage.

Whenever possible, try to pay with small bills. If you have to use a larger note, confirm with the driver first if they can give you change.

Make sure to pay close attention when handing over money to the driver, it might even help to say the amount out loud as you hand it over.

Something like – “Here, I got XX. Do you have the change? “-

If the change you receive seems incorrect, kindly ask for an explanation. It could simply be an honest mistake.

But if you realize they are trying to scam you, stand your ground firmly. Scammers are aware they’re in the wrong and, particularly if they’re licensed, they could face even legal consequences. Though, this could vary depending on the country you’re in.

a red rickshaw with the driver parked in a square in front of a triumphal arch
Rickshaw. (Credit - Niki Nagy via Pexels)

5) Counterfeit Cash and Foreign Currency Change

Some taxi drivers might hand you counterfeit money or currency that looks similar but is worth less.

This scam often relies on tourists not being familiar with the local currency. For more about this topic, check out our articles on fake bills cut change (click here to read) and unlicensed currency vendors (Coming Soon).

How to avoid it:
The best defense is to become familiar with the local currency, which will help you spot fakes and avoid currency scams.

Whenever possible, pay the exact amount with smaller denominations/bills.

Opt for cashless transactions when you can but stay alert for risks like skimming and chip cloning (#7 of this list).

6) Route Scams

Sometimes drivers might take a longer route or the wrong way without telling you anything. The kindest might suggest a “scenic” detour.

While some may genuinely recommend a more picturesque path, it’s essential to remember that the taximeter will keep running, potentially leading to much higher fares.

This tactic can also set the stage for an unsolicited, and often overpriced, guided tour (click here to read more about the topic).

How to avoid it:
Pre-negotiating at least a price range for the ride should reduce the risk of surprise detours.

However, for longer trips it never hurts to check your route through Google Maps or similar services. They do not necessarily need to follow the recommended routes; cab drivers often know efficient shortcuts. But ensure they’re not just circling back or veering off course.

If a driver suggests an alternative “scenic” route or destination, politely decline and insist on your intended destination. Otherwise, if interested, ask about the cost upfront.

If they insist, you can always lie and claim that friends who live there are waiting for you at your destination. Say your friends are foreigners too or you will probably find yourself stammering the first vaguely local sounds that come to your head as their names.

a passenger on a car using google maps direction to check the route
Use Google Maps Directions to check the route. (Credit - Foundry via Pixabay)

7) Card Payments Scams

Paying with credit or prepaid cards has its benefits, like avoiding cash exchange scams. However, it also has its downsides.

Not all countries commonly accept card payments, especially in taxis, and there are risks associated with using cards as well.

Also, you should be aware of devices resembling card readers that are designed to steal credit card information, including your PIN and/or chip data. These fraudulent devices might fake a malfunction after capturing your information, while others could mimic the confirmation sound and message of a successful transaction to trick you.

Check here (Hacked Card/Chip Readers and POS) for more details about this scam, along with a list of other common credit and debit card frauds.

How to avoid it:
A crucial step, which doesn’t fully mitigate the risk of data theft, is to verify whether a payment was actually processed from your bank account.

Follow the general protective measures for your financial cards and electronic payments.

a taxi passenger paying for fare by swiping his credit card over a card reader
Taxi Card Reader. (Credit - Tim Samuel via Pexels)

+1) Unlicensed/Unauthorized Ride Services

Due to the complexities and risks associated with this topic in certain regions, we’ll dedicate a separate article to better discuss its implications and how to safeguard yourself (coming soon).

When it comes to taxis, tuk-tuks, and other unlicensed forms of transportation, it’s important to note that their safety can greatly depend on the country and specific area you’re in. The range of experiences could vary significantly, even from one driver to another within the same location.

How to avoid it:
Always be vigilant for any red flags and, as a golden rule, try to avoid unlicensed ride services whenever possible.

You could end up in any of the scams in this article or, in some country, even much worse scenarios.

Many Cities have Parking Stands dedicated to Licensed Taxis. (Credit - Tommes64 via Pixabay)

Extras And Thoughts

Now, while all this information might raise your concerns, it’s crucial to remember that most taxi, tuk-tuk, and rickshaw drivers are honest individuals earning their living.

When drivers suggest alternate destinations or routes, they might do so with honest intentions. Similarly, any errors in providing change might be unintentional.

Of course, necessity, opportunity, or greed might tempt some into exploiting tourists for personal gain. Still, taxi services remain an invaluable asset for travellers worldwide.

The Key Red Flags to watch for in Taxi Scams are:
– When you’re offered a paid ride in vehicles not marked as taxis, it’s a clear sign of unlicensed drivers.
– The lack of clear details about service charges. Keep in mind, even having a range for the fare is already helpful.
– The drivers’ insistence on taking you to specific locations. Especially if they arbitrarily choose a destination other than the one you’ve agreed upon, without your approval.
– The reluctance to address concerns or complaints about the fare, the service, or the change after the payment. If they suddenly fake misunderstanding or language barriers after payment, it’s likely an attempt to scam you.

Also, keep in mind that many cities offer phone numbers, apps, websites, and web applications for calling and booking these services. Additionally, some have designated parking areas for licensed taxi services waiting for passengers.

Take care and stay informed. The more you know the easier it gets, making it almost enjoyable to avoid some potential tourist scams and traps.

queue of taxis at the airport exit
Taxi Queue Outside an Airport. (Credit - Stux via Pxabay)

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