Scam uncovered in Mumbai: Book Uber via WhatsApp and get 50 per cent off
mid-day exclusive: That's the crux of the city's newest taxi scam; after mid-day's investigation exposes crooks, Crime Branch and Uber launch their own probes
Half-Price rides on Uber might sound too good to be true, but mid-day has uncovered a modern-day gang of Robin Hoods who are providing Uber cab rides at heavily discounted rates, without the knowledge of the app-based cab aggregator. During a week-long investigation, our reporters reached out to the racketeers, who only operate through WhatsApp, to investigate how the scam works.
This paper has found dozens of WhatsApp numbers that are circulating among commuters, offering Uber cab rides at heavy concessions. The operators offer rides to customers for anywhere between R 350 to Rs 450, no matter the distance or time of day. The scheme only works for long distances, however, where the charges are Rs 500 and above.
Our reporters reached out to four different WhatsApp numbers to investigate how the whole racket works. The discount is not offered by the cab company directly; the racketeers seem to be somehow gaming the Uber app. But neither the company nor the drivers were aware of it. This paper has since given a detailed account of the racket to Uber, as well as the Crime Branch.
Second time's the charm
Reporter: Anurag Kamble
Journey details: CSMT to Vashi railway station, 8 pm
Paid: Rs 400
Uber's rate: Rs 605.93
The reporter first tried booking a cab from Bandra to Panvel on the evening of October 15. The WhatsApp user initially showed interest, but became unresponsive after 10 minutes, despite being online.
The next day, the reporter tried another number, and booked a taxi from CSMT to Vashi Railway station. This time, there was an immediate response, and a cab was arranged within five minutes. However, when we received the driver's details, he told us he was coming from Mazgaon and would try to reach pick-up location as soon as possible.
The cab fare was nearly Rs 200 less than the official Uber charge. When the reporter tried to question the driver about it, he seemed reluctant. After asking a few times how they could afford such low fares, the driver replied, "Apne ko kya karne ka, bhai, apna paisa mil gaya, baat khatam (It doesn't affect us, we get our money anyway)."
'It's a discount coupon'
Reporter: Diwakar Sharma
Journey details: Bandra East to Bhayandar East, 6.30 pm
Paid: Rs 450
uber's rate: Rs 634
The reporter sent a message to the WhatsApp number, asking for a ride from Bandra East to Bhayandar East on October 14. The operator responded, quoting Rs 450 for the journey. This reporter then checked the Uber app, which quoted Rs 634.10 for the same trip. Once the reporter agreed to the discounted rate, the fixer sent a PayTM number for the payment, and said the cab would arrive in 15 minutes. The operator had booked the cab under the name Ravi. He also instructed the reporter to pay the amount soon after boarding the cab, before the trip began, or the ride would be cancelled. The reporter was asked to send a screenshot of the PayTM payment to the same WhatsApp number as confirmation.
To test this, the reporter decide to delay the payment. The trip started at 6.30 pm, and at 7 pm, he got a WhatsApp message: "Pay kardo. 30 min... U have to pay always as ride start...Bhai, delay not acceptable (sic)."
Once the payment was confirmed, the reporter received a message saying: "It's a cash ride with a discount coupon. So the bill should be zero when he clicks on 'Collect Cash'. So kindly have a look before alighting from the cab. You don't have to pay anything to the driver."
Who's getting cheated?
Reporter: Faizan Khan
Journey details: BKC to Old Panvel, 8.25 pm
Paid: Rs 400
uber's rate: Rs 580
The reporter sent a message to the WhatsApp number on October 19, to no response. The next day, he texted the same number. This time, he got an instant response. The fixer asked for the pick-up and drop location and quoted Rs 400 from BKC to Old Panvel. Uber was charging Rs 580 for the same distance. The operator sent a link that went straight to the Uber app, providing the driver's details and tracking the cab's location.
He asked the reporter to pay once he was in the cab. During the hour-long journey, the scribe tried to gauge whether the driver was aware of the scam. But the driver said it was a normal booking for him. In fact, he received Rs 580 in his account - the same amount showing on the app, Rs 180 more than the what the reporter paid. So, whose pocket did the extra money come from? An officer from the Crime Branch said, "We are investigating the matter."
Nearly Rs 300 discount
Reporter: Samiullah Khan
Journey details: Bandra East to Gorai beach, 6.35 pm
Paid: Rs 400
uber's rate: Rs 670
On October 14, our reporter asks for a cab from Bandra East to Gorai beach. He asked whether the reporter wanted a cab right then or later. when the reporter said he wanted one immediately, the WhatsApp user responded that a car was available. He asked for Rs 400 to be paid via PayTM. On Uber, the fare was Rs 670. Upon arriving at the destination, the driver said "The payment has been transferred to my account."
How it works
Step 1 The customer contacts the WhatsApp number to request a ride, along with details of the pick-up and drop points. The mystery operator will respond with rate.
Step 2 The operator books the ride under a pseudonym and sends a link with driver details.
Step 3 The link directs the customer to the official Uber app, where the driver details appear, like any other ride.
Step 4 As soon as the customer boards the cab, he/she has to pay the charges via PayTM and send a screenshot to the WhatsApp number. Otherwise, the ride is cancelled.
Step 5 Once the trip comes to an end, the Uber app on the driver's phone shows that he has received his payment. This amount can also be more than what the customer has paid in total.
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DISCLAIMER: mid-day and its affiliates shall have no liability for any views, thoughts and comments expressed on this article.
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