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How to Avoid Taxi Scams

Protect Yourself From Taxi Fraud

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Photo © Spencer Platt / Getty Images News

We've all heard about taxi scams, whether from friends, articles or guidebooks. For example, you're in an unfamiliar city and your taxi driver takes you to your hotel by the longest (translation: most expensive) route possible. Or, you get into a cab at a foreign airport, the driver pulls away, and you realized that the meter is not turned on. When you question the driver, he shrugs expressively and says, "No good," leaving you to wonder just how much this trip will really cost you. Even worse, your driver announces that he has no change, which means he'll pocket the difference between the fare and the face value of the smallest bank note you have as a colossal tip.

It doesn't have to be this way. For starters, most licensed taxi drivers are honest, hardworking people who are trying to earn a living. The few dishonest drivers out there have developed some clever ways to part you from your cash, but you can protect yourself from almost all taxi scams with just a little bit of effort.

Research Routes, Rules and Fares

As you plan your trip, take the time to plan your taxicab trips as well as your hotel stays. Find out about typical fares from, say, the airport to your hotel, or from your hotel to the museums you wish to visit. You can use a website such as TaxiFareFinder.com, WorldTaximeter.com or TaxiWiz.com. State and city taxi commissions, which issue taxicab licenses (or medallions), often post fare schedules on their websites. Travel guidebooks also provide information about taxi fares. Jot this information down so that you can refer to it when discussing fares with your taxi driver.

Some taxi fare calculator websites show maps of destination cities. These maps can help you learn about various ways to get from place to place. Bear in mind, though, that these maps don't tell you everything about a city. Cab drivers often know several different ways to get from point A to point B, just in case an accident or traffic problem snarls up their favorite routes. The shortest way isn't always the best way, particularly during rush hour.

Remember that taxi fares and rules vary widely from place to place. In New York City, for example, taxi drivers are not allowed to charge for luggage. In Las Vegas, you are not allowed to hail a taxicab on the street. Many jurisdictions in the U.S. permit taxi drivers to charge higher fares during snow emergencies. Find out about fare regulations before you leave home.

One of the most confusing aspects of taxi fares is the "waiting" charge, which can be as much as $30 per hour in the U. S. We are all comfortable with the idea of paying a taxi driver to wait while we do a quick errand, but the waiting charge also applies when the taxicab is stopped in traffic or is moving very, very slowly. The meter can tell how fast the taxicab is moving and will switch to "waiting" fare mode once the vehicle slows down to approximately 10 miles per hour. Thus, a two-minute traffic delay could add up to $1 to your total fare.

Bring a Map, Pencil and Camera

It sounds so obvious: Track your own route and record your experiences, just in case. Taxi drivers aren't as likely to take you on a meandering tour of the local area if they know you are following their turns on your trusty map. If you're not sure whether you're headed in the right direction, ask; then start writing down names and taxi license numbers. If you forget your pencil and travel journal, pull out your camera and take pictures instead. Should you need to file a complaint after you leave the cab, you'll have hard evidence to back up your claim.

Learn About Licenses and Payment Methods

Most jurisdictions – states, regions, cities and even airports – have strict taxi licensing regulations. Take the time to find out what the taxi licenses or medallions look like in the places you plan to visit. Find out, too, whether some or all of the taxicabs in your destination city accept credit card payments. To protect yourself from scams, unreimbursed accident expenses or worse, never, ever get into an unlicensed taxi.

Hoard Your Change

Carry a stack of small bank notes (bills) and keep a few coins in your pocket. If you can pay your fare and tip with exact change, you will protect yourself from at least one taxi scam. It can be difficult in some cities (Rome leaps to mind) to acquire small change, but it's worth the effort. (Tasty tip: Buy chocolate bars in gas station convenience stores, which often have small bills and coins on hand.)

Familiarize Yourself With Common Scams

In addition to the taxicab scams mentioned above, there are a few universal scams you should know. One common trick is exchanging a large bill (offered by you in payment) for a smaller one (quickly switched by the taxi driver). Carefully observe your driver's actions to avoid becoming a victim of this sleight-of-hand scam. Even better, pay from your stack of smaller bills so that the driver will not owe you any change.

If you are taking a taxi in an area that does not use meters, settle on a fare with your driver before you get into the cab. Here's where your pre-trip research will pay off. If you know that the fixed fare from your airport to downtown is $40, you can turn down a driver's suggestion of a $60 fare with confidence. Don't get into the vehicle until you've agreed on a fare you are comfortable paying.

Certain parts of the world are notorious for their taxi scams. Take a few minutes to look up your destination cities in a travel guidebook or online travel forum and find out about local taxi fraud tactics. Ask friends and colleagues about their experiences. And, remember to avoid unlicensed taxis at all costs.

Save Your Receipt

Again, this should go without saying: save your receipt, because you will probably need it if you decide to file a claim. Your receipt may be your only proof that you were in a specific driver's taxicab. Remember to check your receipt against your monthly statement if you paid your fare by credit card.

When in Doubt, Get Out

If you can't come to an agreement with a taxi driver, walk away and find another cab. And, if the worst happens and your driver demands more money than you agreed to pay, leave the agreed-upon fare on the seat and exit the cab.

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