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Toronto Six people charged in alleged scam to defraud Toronto taxi passengers

Amanda Galbraith, a victim of a taxi fare scam is photographed in Toronto on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019.

Christopher Katsarov

Toronto police say they have cracked a taxi-fraud scam that allegedly stole substantial amounts of money from hundreds of cab users over the past year in the Greater Toronto Area.

Six people are facing 262 fraud-related charges for allegedly stealing the debit- and credit-card information of taxi customers and using it to deplete their bank accounts, according to Constable Kristin Thomas.

“We’re in the millions of a loss when you put them all together,” Const. Thomas said of the sums of money involved. Police received reports of the alleged frauds throughout 2018, but a few months passed before a pattern began to emerge, she said.

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Const. Thomas said the suspects allegedly defraud customers by giving them an altered point of sale debit machine. Once the customer enters their PIN information, they’re met with a “Communication Error” message. The driver then asks for the machine back to rectify the problem, and then switches the customer’s card with another from the same banking institution.

The customer then completes what they believe to be a proper transaction and removes the card they believe is their own. The driver, using the PIN information collected by the point of sale machine as well as the customer’s card, fraudulently depletes funds from their bank account.

HOW VICTIMS WERE DEFRAUDED

ERROR!

The customer enters their PIN and gets an error message. However, the point-of-sale machine has captured the customer's information.

The driver then removes the customer's debit/credit card, without them knowing, and replaces it with another card from the same banking institution.

ALL

GOOD!

The customer completes what they believe is a proper transaction for the ride and then removes the card they believe is their own.

The cab driver then takes the customer's card to an Automated Bank Machine affiliated with the customer's bank, and uses the stolen debit/credit card to gain access to the customer's accounts.

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

HOW VICTIMS WERE DEFRAUDED

ERROR!

The customer enters their PIN and gets an error message. However, the point-of-sale machine has captured the customer's information.

The driver then removes the customer's debit/credit card, without them knowing, and replaces it with another card from the same banking institution.

ALL

GOOD!

The customer completes what they believe is a proper transaction for the ride and then removes the card they believe is their own.

The cab driver then takes the customer's card to an Automated Bank Machine affiliated with the customer's bank, and uses the stolen debit/credit card to gain access to the customer's accounts.

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

HOW VICTIMS WERE DEFRAUDED

ERROR!

The customer enters their PIN and gets an error message. However, the point-of-sale machine has captured the customer's information.

The driver then removes the customer's debit/credit card, without them knowing, and replaces it with another card from the same banking institution.

ALL

GOOD!

The customer completes what they believe is a proper transaction for the ride and then removes the card they believe is their own.

The cab driver then takes the customer's card to an Automated Bank Machine affiliated with the customer's bank, and uses the stolen debit/credit card to gain access to the customer's accounts.

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Amanda Galbraith, former director of communications for the mayor of Toronto, said she was a victim of this about a week ago.

Ms. Galbraith said she was leaving a downtown restaurant last Wednesday when she hailed a taxi. The car that pulled up looked like a cab, but it was not a familiar company.

She says that when she tried to pay for her ride, the exact procedure outlined by Const. Thomas happened to her. Ms. Galbraith found out she had been victimized only when she went to pay for her lunch the next day. Her PIN didn’t work and she noticed the card wasn’t hers.

“While I was sleeping, he’d taken thousands of dollars out of my account. It was over $5,000,” she said.

Ms. Galbraith said she still doesn’t know if she will be refunded by her bank.

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In an attempt to stop this from happening to others, Ms. Galbraith took to Twitter last Thursday to explain her situation.

“Nobody likes to say they got duped,” she said. “I did it because I just felt like it was really important for people to know that this happened … . I kind of had a weird feeling that something was off but I just didn’t follow my instincts. So it was just really important to me to say, ‘This happened to me and it can happen to anyone.’ ”

Const. Thomas said all reported cases of the alleged frauds took place in the city’s licensed taxis, not in cars belonging to ride-hailing apps such as Lyft or Uber.

Beck Taxi operations manager Kristine Hubbard said the company has many security measures in place to prevent users from being scammed. “Every approved point-of-sale machine in a Beck taxi is very branded and looks identical,” she said. “Being informed is the most important thing, and don’t give your debit card to anyone ever.”

Ms. Hubbard added that these situations happen only when hailing a cab on the spot, so users should try to order taxis in advance or pay with the app so they don’t ever have to physically present their card. She also said she hopes these incidents don’t drive customers away from taxis and toward ride-sharing apps. “The risk exists no matter what service you use," she said.

This is not the first time scams of this kind have occurred. In 2016, Toronto police warned of taxi drivers stealing bank cards from dozens of late-night cab riders. In 2017, police cautioned about an ongoing investigation into the same kind of operation.

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Although police have caught some of the alleged scammers, Const. Thomas said this issue remains “very active." She urges cab users not to leave debit or credit cards unattended inside a point-of-sale machine and to be aware of cab numbers and cab company names.

“There are still a number of incidents occurring,” the police report said. “And there are still outstanding individuals actively defrauding the public utilizing various cabs in the GTA.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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