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The Time Someone Tried To Scam Me

Trip length: 0 minutes. Trip distance: 0 miles.
Fare: $3.75  Year: 2016.
Song of the trip: “Liar Liar (It Takes One To Know One)” by Taking Back Sunday


You can't cheat an honest man, they say. They say that, of course, because that's another lie someone trying to con you will tell you. It's better to believe the old proverb "A fool and his money are easily parted." Well, let me tell you, Old Man Billy's nobody's fool.

I am always suspicious.

The fare's name is Michael, and he's supposed to be over at 5th and Santa Clara, right in front of the San Jose City Hall. Stopping on Santa Clara street on a Friday night at 9 p.m. is a dangerous option, though, so I turn onto 5th St. and pull over on the side of the street just a little bit away from the corner, and flip my blinkers on.

It's not uncommon to have to wait a few minutes, so I'm about to get my book out when the phone rings. I answer it, fully expecting it to be some drunken passenger who's too wasted to see I'm across the street from him.

"Is this Billy?"

"That's me," I say. "I'm waiting at the corner with my blinkers on."

"This isn't your fare. My name's John and I'm with Uber. My badge number is 491654. Your passenger is unable to get to you, so I need you to cancel the fare and mark it as 'do not charge rider.'" Sure you are, mate. And I'm dating Anna Kendrick. (Side note: Anna, call me.)

"Okay," I lie, "I've done that."

"It's not showing that on our end."

"It takes a little bit of time to go through." What I'm really doing is waiting for the clock to tick over or for him to cancel it. "So why are you calling me?"

"Well,  you've been driving with us for a while now and we're going to award you with an $800 bonus."

"Oh really?" I say, rolling my eyes. "That's great."

"So I'm going to send you a text message and I need you to respond with your phone number, email address and Uber password so we can put the $800 onto your account."

"Yeah, okay, hang on a minute." I'm literally just watching the clock, and I see another Uber driver turn in behind me, sliding in to stop right along the curve behind me, his blinkers on. I hop out of the car, leaving the door open as I walk over to the car behind me and tap his window.

The guy rolls down his window and it's a driver I don't know, which isn't a surprise. Most of the regulars I used to know - Carlos, Indrani, Nikos, even Ojiambo - have since stopped driving, and the turnover these days is so bad I haven't bothered to talk to any other drivers much because I know they'll be gone within a few months. There used to be a bunch of us who'd meet up at a local 7-11 just before bar close, but those days are long gone. "S'up?" I mouth the words 'mute them' to him and he taps his voice to put it on mute. "What's going on?"

"Is it some guy calling from 'Uber'" I say doing airquotes with my fingers "telling you that your passenger wants you to cancel and make it as 'do not charge rider'?"

"How did you know that?"

"Some guy's trying to scam us for our Uber logins. Trying to steal any money you've made for the week, I'd guess. Seems like it might be a team of them. I've got an idiot just like him on hold in my car right now. Don't give him any legit information, don't cancel the fare and just drag it out as long as you can so either they cancel or you pass the five minute mark and can cancel them as a 'no show.' That way you at least get paid a little bit for this fucking distraction."

"Hey thanks brother. Good lookin' out."

I walk back to my car, close the door and tap off mute. "Alright, I've sent those messages."

"I haven't gotten them on my end yet."

I glance at the timer. He's got another 20 seconds until I can cancel and bill him.

"Does this ever work?"

"Excuse me?"

"I mean, do you assholes feel good about stealing money from people who are literally making less than minimum wage? Did you think I was just going to give you my password? What kind of fucking moron do you take me for?"

"Sir, I assure you, I work for Uber and my badge number..."

"Yeah," I say, cutting him off, "see I've got a friend who works in Trust & Safety, so I've heard a bunch of the social engineering bullshit scams before. Providing a fake badge number to give yourself the air of authority? Conning A Mark 101. If you were stealing from one of these Silicon Valley companies that had more money than common sense, I'd at least respect that. But you're the kind of shithead who preys on people who are scraping by. How the fuck do you sleep at night?"

He hangs up the phone without answering my question and I cancel the fare as 'passenger is a no-show' and collect my $3.75. I also immediately go offline and switch to the support portion of the app, but because the fare didn't go through, I can't start it. So I put in a support request, and after a few minutes of waiting I go back online.

It's after two fares, some forty minutes later, that Uber support actually calls me back, and I inform them that someone was attempting to steal Uber driver's passwords so they could steal their money. I even tell the support person that another Uber driver pulled in behind me at the same location with someone trying to do the same scam, and that I warned them off from it, which means this is not a one-off, but a systemic attempt to rob drivers.

The support person is... less than helpful, but takes down all the information I give them and says they're going to investigate the matter further. They also immediately log me out of the Uber app and change my password, to ensure my account is safe, even though I didn't give the con artist anything.

A week or so later, I got an email from Uber telling me I should never give my password to anyone, and that they're going to investigate, and appreciate me driving for them.

Never heard anything more from them. No additional security measures, no 'report fraudulent passenger' option in the cancellation options. Not even so much as a goddamn thank you.

It's the old Silicon Valley proverb - "If you aren't paying for the product, you are the product."

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