Uber’s permanent damage control team, fresh off dealing with some industrial espionage, lawsuits, and a fatal self-driving car, have a fun new challenge: Vomit fraud. According to a delightful story from the Miami Herald, passengers in Miami are getting hit with cleaning fees for vomit they didn’t produce. The cleaning fees largely go into the pocket of drivers as payback for having to clean puke out of their cars, so it’s easy to see how this scam works.
According to the Herald, passengers are informed hours or days after their ride that an “adjustment” has been made to their ride pricing, normally either $80 or $150. Photos of the issue, which are originally provided by the driver to Uber, are provided, which typically show vomit in the Uber driver’s car.
Of course, there’s a difficulty with that. In numerous instances, riders provided Uber (and the Herald) with proof that they weren’t drunk in the vehicle, or in one case, that they weren’t in the vehicle in the first place. It seems that some unscrupulous drivers have been faking photos of vomit, either by taking and recycling numerous photos of one vomit incident, or by using fake vomit or stock photos.
In fairness, this is the kind of problem that a company contracting hundreds of thousands of strangers to drive around other strangers should be prepared to deal with, but Uber’s customer service sounds about as helpful as you’d expect:
The passenger, unaware of what’s happening, tries to contact Uber. The only way to do that is through the “help” button on the company’s app or internet page.
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.”
In some cases, it takes involving the credit card company to make it right:
“I immediately contacted Uber through the app. I told them that I was alone, sober, that I was not carrying any drinks and that it was impossible for me to have caused that damage,” she said. “But every new email from Uber came from a different representative and always favored the driver.”
Despite several email exchanges, Uber never agreed to reimburse her the extra money. But she disputed the charge with her credit card company and got back her $98. Uber then canceled her account.
Thanks to Uber’s policy of favoring the driver first in complaints, fraudulent cleaning fees aren’t a new thing. Buzzfeed reported on the scam back in 2016, and Uber’s customer service approach sounds eerily the same back then as it does in the more recent Herald report.
In a statement responding to the newspaper’s story, Uber said that “the vast majority of cleaning fee reports are legitimately the result of someone making a mess in the car. In the instances where we find a confirmed case of fraud, we take appropriate action. With 15 million trips a day, Uber is unfortunately not immune to these types of incidents.”