Clark Howard

Ride Uber or Lyft? You need to know how to protect yourself against this rideshare scam

If you’ve ever ridden with an Uber or Lyft driver, you know that they have a great responsibility to ensure a safe and efficient ride. But to stay profitable on the road, new reports indicate that some of them are going to some extreme and gross lengths to pad their bottom lines — namely “vomit fraud.”

That’s the term being used to describe a phenomenon in which rideshare drivers report fictitious incidents of drunken passengers throwing up in their vehicles, causing damage — at as much as a $200 a pop. Services like Uber and Lyft have terms of service which are in place to protect the driver’s property in such cases.

‘Vomit fraud’: Scam has some rideshare drivers falsifying damage claims

These companies already have your credit card information, and the fine print allows them to bill you for cleaning should it be necessary.

The issue most recently came to light in a Miami Herald article, which chronicles the stories of rideshare customers who have been falsely accused of trashing vehicles by purportedly leaving all kinds of fluids on the backseat and floor. At least one Uber driver reportedly admitted that he's been staging photos of bogus barf in his back seat — and getting away with it for years.

After a Grand Rapids, MIchigan, man complained to the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan that he was fraudulently charged for a cleaning bill after a ride, local TV station WZZM reached out and got this response from Uber:

“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.”

Money expert Clark Howard says the problem with all this is that "there's no verification" that the drivers are telling the truth about passengers throwing up in their vehicles.

Of course, there are cases in which customers who have imbibed have genuinely upchucked inside an Uber or Lyft driver’s car. When that happens, it’s a bad deal, Clark says.

“They’re not generating income, they’ve got to pay somebody to clean up the car, it does happen, but when drivers are trying to make a quick score … that is rotten terrible,” he says.

So you may be wondering what recourse do you have when it comes to vomit fraud? Here are three ways to safeguard yourself and your money when it comes to dealing with this rideshare scam:

Vomit fraud: Here are 3 ways to protect yourself

  • Take a photo: Clark says photographic evidence is a good way to document how you left the car. "Just very quickly take a picture of the back seat of the vehicle to prove that it was clean and fine when you got out."
  • Check your credit card after an Uber or Lyft ride: After using a ridesharing service, scrutinize the credit card account that they have on file. That way, you can quickly dispute an unauthorized charge.
  • Check driver ratings: Before riding with a specific driver, check their driver rating. If it appears to be lower than what you commonly see, be especially vigilant with the above two steps.

More stories you may like: