Scam Taxis: what to look for and how to avoid them

Scam Taxis: what to look for and how to avoid them

The most dangerous scams are the ones we don’t realize are happening until it’s too late. One of the most prominent scams, especially in metropolitan areas, are taxi scams. They can take a variety of shapes, which makes identifying them difficult but an essential travel skill.

Taxi scams most often prey on people who need quick, reliable transportation. They take advantage of tourists who are unfamiliar with a given area or the local language. The subsequent robbing doesn’t happen through violence but through coercion and deceit. Below, we will explain scam taxis and how to avoid them on your next trip to Europe and the Schengen Area.

What are the types of taxi scams?

A scam taxi is altered or modified to charge a customer unfairly. There are two main types: one involving a taxi driver and one involving a driver and another passenger.

Taxi payment fraud

The two-person scam usually involves two people pretending to argue. The “passenger” claims to be unable to pay their fare and asks bystanders to help. They will ask for a debit card payment and offer cash in return.

In practice, the debit card reader is maliciously taking PIN information and using it elsewhere. Even worse, the cash paid in return for the services is usually counterfeit.

Taxi rate fraud

The second type is far more common and sometimes difficult to spot until it’s underway. In the second type of scam taxi, the price is inflated through various means.

It may be that the price differs from what is stated on the meter, or the driver claims the price is “per person.” A driver may also take a circuitous route to the destination, arbitrarily inflating the price.

The meter may also appear to “jump” or go up in an outsized way compared to the actual rates. It may be that the meter appears broken, and the cabbie gives a seemingly absurd price in response.

Once the ride is over, the intimidation tactics set in. A dishonest cabbie may threaten to call the police or begin shouting to force quick payment. This is to quell any feelings of dishonesty and instead create a quick end to the exchange.

These two interactions form the basis of the majority of scam taxis. Thankfully, it is relatively easy to deal with them.

Where are scam taxis most common?

In Europe, scam taxis will be most common where the scammers can be confident of not getting caught. It also requires a hefty public transportation usage to avoid calling attention to themselves by authorities.

How do I recognize scam taxis?

The same steps in recognizing scam taxis also help you to recognize real taxis. A real taxi service should have signage on the exterior denoting it as such. Sometimes, but not always, fare rates for days, nights, and weekends will also be denoted on the outside.

Taxi rate disclosure

Before or after you get into the taxi, you may want to look for any rate disclosures posted near the taxi-rank or inside the taxi. Rates may also be stated by distance, time or destination. If a fixed rate to your destination is not displayed, ask for an estimate to set expectations. 

If you’re travelling with multiple people, ask if the listed fare is for the whole trip or per person. This can stop a scammer from changing their story later on and immediately out them as such if they do.

You’ll want to look-out for scam taxis in busy, metropolitan areas. Many official taxi companies have set fares in given locations to stop scam taxis. For example, cab fare in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport is specifically set at a readily-available, widely-publicized price. Many times, cabbies can give an estimated fare beforehand. Similarly, taxi rides ending or originating at Charles-de-Gaulle airport (CDG Airport) have set fares to and from various parts of Paris. 

Taxi driver credentials

You’ll also want to make a note of any driver credentials listed. These are often shown near the meter but always usually near the centre console or the passenger side glove compartment. If you do not see any credentials, you have the right to request your driver to show these to you before you get into the taxi.

Functional taxi meter

Once inside the cab, pay attention to the meter and see that it is in working condition. In many major Western European cities like Paris, meters are tamper-proof. You should still pay attention to rates, as some cabbies will select nightly or weekend rates compared to cheap day rates.

Driver routes

You’ll also want to watch the streets they go down. Many drivers use GPS devices to navigate destinations, providing the fastest routes.

It may be that a seemingly longer route is taken during rush hour or on one-way streets. Otherwise, take note if your trip seems to take significantly longer than it should.

Count your change

If you ever hand over cash, announce the bill amount. It’s as simple as “here’s X Euros.” This way if you’re handed back a fake or alternate bill, you’ll know it’s an attempt to extort more money.

How can I avoid scam taxis?

Once you know how to identify a scam taxi, avoiding them altogether becomes significantly easier. First, identify the major transit points where scam taxis often hang around.

Mind your environment

Be wary of your environment and taxis at major transit points. Be especially careful around train stations, airports, major streets, and anywhere where transit is at its busiest.

Taxi branding and markings

Secondly, watch for clear markings on the exterior of the vehicle. It’s easy to quickly decorate a fake taxi. The more permanent and detailed the work appears, and the nicer the vehicle, the surer its reputation is.

Book through a trusted platform or person

The last, and most effective way to avoid a scam taxi, is to call for a taxi through a concierge or trusted web platform. This can include waiting in line at designated taxi areas. It can also include seeing if someone at your hotel will call for transportation.

For greater efficiency, you can also use rideshare apps. One of the greatest fears regarding ridesharing is getting into the wrong vehicle. Uber addressed one of the gripes here by introducing randomized PIN codes with each ride. It’s easy for a scam taxi to mimic a real one, but it’s significantly less easy to mimic a PIN code.

Use public transport

You can also completely avoid scam taxis by instead relying on public transportation. Many major cities have extensive public transit. While navigating may require a bit of attention, it can be cheaper and safer than taxi rides.

Scam taxis pose the most significant threat to those who don’t even know they exist. Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to tell an authentic one from an imitation.

Safer European travel with ETIAS

Scam taxis are just one aspect you should be wary of when travelling for your safety. You should always remain aware of your surroundings and proceed with caution if someone approaches you in the street.

The benefit of not being scammed is greater than the risk assumed by being impolite. You should be aware if someone bumps into you or hands you something that keeps your hands busy.

However, researching before you travel involves far more than simply staying safe. It also includes what to do, what to see, and how to make yourself at home in Europe.

ETIAS is a European travel authorisation intended to make travel streamlined and safe. Starting in 2025, one of the first tasks on your to-do list will be to obtain an approved ETIAS. This allows for a more streamlined process than getting a visa and is for those in nations previously travelling visa-free. Once the application is complete, you will get your approval via email and will be clear for travel to a country within the EU. Bear in mind that ETIAS approval does not guarantee admission into the EU, and the final decision for admission is up to the border authorities of your chosen country of arrival.