Uber Fraud: What It Is and How to Keep Yourself Safe [For Riders and Drivers]

In a perfect world, everyone would be fair and honest to each other. No one would try to cheat or defraud anyone else. This is not the world we live in, however.

While most people are honest, there are those out there who seek to commit fraudulent activities in order to make money or get something else that they want. This is what has happened in a recent string of incidents in which some Uber riders have reported cleaning fees for messes that never happened or even “ghost rides” in which the passenger cancelled a ride but the driver claimed to have transported them.

These fraud incidents are concerning, especially if you’re an Uber rider yourself. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the common types of fraud that have occurred with Uber rides, as well as what you can do to protect yourself as a passenger. We’ll also look at things from a driver perspective, so that you don’t get accused of fraud for legitimate charges.

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What Is Vomit Fraud?

The discussion surrounding Uber fraud focuses mostly on a particular type called “vomit fraud.” In this type of fraud, the Uber driver takes advantage of Uber’s cleaning fee policy by claiming that the passenger vomited in the vehicle. This report will come along with photos of fake vomit in the driver’s vehicle. The charges to passengers for these sorts of incidents can be quite high, not to mention frustrating.

To better understand how much (and why) you were charged for a cleaning fee, we need to take a look at the fee structure that Uber has in place for various types of cleaning that may be required. These policies are in line with Uber’s general requirement that drivers keep their vehicles clean.

The fee types and amounts are as follows:

  1. Damage that requires vacuuming or simple cleaning (e.g. small messes, food or drink spills) is charged $20.
  2. Vomit or spills on the exterior of a vehicle are charged $40.
  3. Vomit and larger food or beverage spills on fabric or other hard-to-clean surfaces inside a vehicle typically require detailing and are charged $80.
  4. Significant amounts of bodily fluids (e.g. urine, blood, or vomit) on the vehicle’s interior or messes that require cleaning between the window and door are charged $150.

These fees are not innately a bad thing. In fact, they serve to protect drivers from poor passenger conduct and compensate them for the time and money required to clean their vehicles. Things can go wrong, however, when Uber drivers attempt to exploit this system and pocket the extra money for themselves.

Other Types of Uber Fraud

While vomit fraud is the most talked about type of fraud out there, other forms of fraud are possible. One common type is a “ghost ride,” in which a driver claims that they’ve picked you up but in fact haven’t. This type of fraud is a bit harder to get away with, since Uber can track both your and the driver’s location while you’re using the app.

Nevertheless, some riders have reported ordering a ride, canceling it, and then being charged for the duration of the ride (in addition to a cancellation fee). The cancellation fee is legitimate and in line with Uber’s policies, as it compensates drivers for the time they spend getting to your location and the lost fare from the canceled ride. Charging you for a ride you didn’t take, however, is a clear case of fraud and is against Uber’s policies.

As an Uber spokesperson put it in a statement to Forbes, “Participating in fraudulent activity of any kind is a clear violation of our Community Guidelines. We are constantly evaluating our processes and technology related to these claims and will take appropriate action whenever fraud may be detected.”

This sounds great, but the reality is that you still need to be vigilant and protect yourself from fraud. You can’t rely on Uber to do it for you.

How to Protect Yourself from Uber Fraud

The best way to protect yourself from vomit fraud and other types of fraudulent activities is to closely monitor your credit card statements for Uber rides. If you see any charges that are unusually high, you can go into your Uber account and review them. You can also check your email for an itemized receipt showing the charges for every Uber trip that you’ve taken. If you were charged a cleaning fee, you’ll see it there.

In the event that you think a charge isn’t legitimate, you can dispute it from within your Uber account. To do this, first visit the Uber cleaning fee page. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see a portion that says, “If you were charged a cleaning fee you feel is inaccurate or unfair, please let us know here.” Below this message, there’s a box to make a report of an inaccurate cleaning fee.

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You’ll need to sign in to fill out the form. In the box, describe why you think the cleaning fee was inaccurate. Be as detailed as possible, noting the name and license plate number of your driver, the time you were traveling, and the reasons that the charges aren’t legitimate. Be prepared for quite a bit of back and forth. Uber’s policy in these matters is to side with the driver first, so be prepared to argue your case.

For all other fee issues, you can contact Uber customer support to get assistance.

Cleaning Fees from the Uber Driver’s Perspective

While passengers should dispute inaccurate charges for damage that they didn’t cause, there will be some passengers who will try to claim that they didn’t vomit or cause another form of damage even though they did. To make sure that you get compensated as a driver for any damage that passengers cause, you need to have as much documentation of the incident as possible.

After any incident occurs, make sure to take photos to prove that it happened. Photos aren’t 100% reliable (as this article has shown, they can be faked), but they go a long way towards helping your case. We also suggest having a dash cam installed in your vehicle, as the footage from this will make it much easier to prove what happened.

Finally, if you come to pick up a passenger who looks like they’re so intoxicated or otherwise indisposed to the point that they’re likely to vomit, urinate, or otherwise cause damage while they’re in your vehicle, then don’t let them enter the vehicle in the first place.

This can be an uncomfortable experience, but it is perfectly within your rights to refuse to allow a passenger to enter your vehicle if you think that they’re going to cause damage or make the ride unsafe. You have to use your best judgment in these cases, but having one bad review is better than having to scrape vomit off your back seat or dashboard.

Uber Fraud: An Unfortunate Reality

It’s frustrating that false vomit and fake trips are things that happen in the world of Uber, but they’re a reality that users of the service have to live with. The vast majority of Uber drivers are honest, and the vast majority of trips occur without incident. The best approach is to be proactive, monitoring your credit card and bank account statements for charges that look suspicious.

As a driver, you can do your part by documenting any damage that does occur with photos or dash cam footage. This way, Uber can remain a safe, pleasant, affordable option for all.