A stealthy taxi cab scam has swindled unsuspecting passengers out of thousands of dollars in the city’s downtown core.
Toronto police said upwards of 65 victims have come forward since November, claiming their debit cards have been swapped and their bank accounts drained. Officials said more than $60,000 was stolen between October and December of last year.
Two victims of this scam came forward to CityNews, each with similar stories.
They had flagged down what appeared to be legitimate taxi cabs, paid with debit and shortly thereafter found large quantities of money missing from their bank accounts.
One of the victims, who only wished to be identified as Rachel, told CityNews nothing about the exchange with the taxi driver made her think anything suspicious was going on.
“I just entered my PIN in, he took the machine back and then gave me back my card and the receipt,” she explained. “I just pulled out my wallet, thought nothing of it.”
It wasn’t until she checked her bank account the next day that she realized she’d been the victim of fraud.
Rachel said her account had been completely drained and was hundreds of dollars in overdraft. She then noticed the debit card that had been handed back to her by the taxi driver wasn’t even hers.
“It’s not my account number and then on the back it’s not my signature,” she explained.
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It’s believed that the victims’ PIN numbers are recorded during the debit transactions and then their real card is swapped for a fake card.
Another victim, Shannon, told CityNews she felt something wasn’t right when she went to pay for the taxi she’d flagged down in the Queen Street West and Ossington Avenue area.
“I think the fact that I heard what I thought was his swiping my card on the passenger seat and I didn’t see what he was doing, it immediately set alarm bells off for me,” she explained.
Within an hour after getting out of the cab, a total of $3,000 had been taken out of her account from three different ATMs around the GTA, including one in Chinatown.
“I went online and checked (my account). When I saw this I had heart palpitations,” she explained. “I started to panic thinking ‘Oh my God I need to stop this now before they’re able to take more money out of my account.'”
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Both victims said the receipt given to them from the taxi drivers didn’t have the name of a known taxi company on it – one had ‘GTA Taxi’ on it while the other said “Toronto Taxi.”
Shannon said the sign on the taxi indicated it was a Royal taxi.
However, when CityNews contacted the company to inquire about the cab number Shannon wrote down, the president of the company said the vehicle was not part of his fleet.
Records show the cab number is registered to a car in Toronto but is not linked to a company.
Investigators said the scammers may be independent cab drivers – meaning they pick up shifts with various taxi companies across the city.
“Be vigilant in making sure that the cab you’re in is marked, licensed, the driver has and identification,” Co-Op Cabs spokesperson Alex Pierson explained. “Take a picture of (the driver’s identification) with your cell phone so that way you have some way of making sure that that you have a trail.”
Police said they have surveillance footage of possible suspects withdrawing money from victims’ debit cards around the city and they believe an arrest will happen soon.
Officials believe the taxi scam is a part of a larger fraud ring and could be connected to a similar scam that happened this summer in Montreal. In that case, the thieves walked away with $450,000 from 150 victims. Montreal police said the fraudulent drivers were using legitimate taxis and were rending them second- or third-hand from legitimate companies.