Since late November, taxi drivers have allegedly used bogus point-of-sale machines to swipe data from a customer’s debit or credit card, then handed the customer a fake card that looked similar to their own.
The customers don’t immediately notice the card isn’t theirs, and the fraudster takes the real card “to the nearest ATM and liquidates your accounts,” said Det. Chris Beattie, the financial crimes unit’s lead investigator on the case.
By Thursday, complaints from cab customers were coming in almost daily — TD Bank alone had filed 65 claims, Beattie said. The thefts weren’t confined to a single cab company, but Beattie wouldn’t say which companies were implicated.
“We were talking to a bunch of the cab companies and basically saying, ‘How do we track these guys down?'” Beattie said. “They said, ‘Well, the easiest way for us to do that is to get the cab number.'”
But a lot of the times, the customers won’t do that … Joe Q Public who’s coming out of a bar at two in the morning will just flag down a cab. ”
The bulk of the frauds occurred at night or in the early morning, usually in the city’s downtown core, when “you’re coming home from work, you’re coming home from a bar, you’re not really noticing what’s going on,” Det. Beattie said.
One rider told CityNews that $720 was stolen from her bank account after a cab driver took her TD bank card and gave her back a TD card with a different name and account number. She said the driver refused to accept cash, saying he couldn’t make change.
To guard against the scam, police cautioned that the fraudsters give receipts bearing names like “GTA Taxi” or “Toronto Cabs” rather than the company’s real name. Beattie said most cab companies will also have branded point-of-sale machines with their name on it.
“Watch them with the machines,” he said.
Police had surveillance footage of at least one of the drivers, Beattie said, but did not plan to release it to the public Thursday.
“We think there’s probably more than one person — there’s a network of a few people,” Beattie said.
The scam comes at an unfortunate time for the industry, as Uber’s expanding presence in the city continues to siphon riders away from traditional taxis. But Kristine Hubbard, operations manager with Beck Taxi, said the incidents aren’t reason to switch to Uber.
“To suggest that this has anything to do with taxis vs. Uber is ludicrous,” she said. “You know what, there is risk when using any kind of payment device.”
“We’ve always done as much as we can to prevent anything like that happening … Are they suggest it’s a handful of people doing it? There are 10,000 licensed cab drivers in this city who are professional, law-abiding people.”
“It’s very shocking because this is not something that happens.”