Uber has had a seemingly never-ending stream of bad press over the past few years:
- Uber was slammed for systemic sexual harassment that permeates the company.
- Then had to fire a newly-hired top executive because he didn’t disclose a previous case of sexual harassment.
- Had its CEO engage in a shouting match with a driver.
- Been embroiled in controversy over unethical/illegal tools, that in all likelihood, were sanctioned by the CEO himself. Greyball — a program to hide from government/law enforcement officials so ride-hailing through Uber can’t be properly regulated.
- Been sued by Google for infringing on their IP for self-driving cars.
In addition to these headline-making scandals, there seems to be a series of new issues involving Uber charging customers for phantom rides that never actually took place or incidents that never occurred. One of the more bizarre, yet apparently common scams riders are facing, is Vomit Fraud. The issue is so widespread there is even a class action lawsuit website dedicated to holding crooked drivers and Uber accountable.
According to the Miami Herald:
Vomit fraud is a scam repeatedly denounced in social networks yet still taking place around the world.
The first reply usually goes something like this: “I understand that it can be disconcerting to receive adjustments to the tariff after your trip ended … In this case, your driver notified us that during your trip there was an incident in the vehicle and therefore a cleanup fee of $150 was added.”
The message is accompanied by photos of the alleged incident — vomit in the vehicle. The Uber driver had sent the images to the company, which considered them sufficient evidence to add the cleanup charge to the bill.
One Uber driver who asked to remain anonymous said that she is aware of frequent use of vomit fraud, and that she knows other drivers in South Florida have done it and won the disputes with passengers.
“They’ve been doing it for a long time,” she said. “Many people don’t review their emails or credit card statements, so the drivers wind up pocketing the $80 or $150.”
The scam has been openly touted by drivers on an Uber driver subreddit, suggesting that not everyone looks down on the scam.
“lol vomit fraud is the oldest trick in my book,” one Redditor — with a history of ride-hail related posts — wrote in r/uberdrivers. “I’ve successfully done it many times when [passengers] are rude, slam my doors, or make me wait too long. Makes them learn the hard way.”
Another, using a slang term for rude passengers, suggested a general lack of sympathy for those defrauded by this scam.
“Gosh, with all the Uber paxholes claiming drunk drivers, I can’t believe Uber drivers can finally get even,” read the post. “Get me a beer so I can cry into it.”
Additionally, I reached out to a former rideshare driver activist, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, who confirmed the scam is “well known and definitely used by some drivers.”
Regardless, I’m sure the vast majority of vomit cases reported to Uber are valid and are being properly used by drivers to clean and maintain their cars. That being said, if you are a frequent Uber user, it may be wise to check your credit card statements for any questionable charges. While I have not personally been a victim of “vomit fraud,” I have received erroneous charges for a number of other reasons.
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Casey Botticello is a partner at Black Edge Consulting. Black Edge Consulting is a strategic communications firm, specializing in online reputation management, digital marketing, and crisis management. Prior to founding Black Edge Consulting, he worked for BGR Group, a bipartisan lobbying and strategic communications firm.
Casey is the founder of the Cryptocurrency Alliance, a Super PAC dedicated to cryptocurrency and blockchain advocacy. He is a graduate of The University of Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. in Urban Studies.