Boy, what a morning so far.  Just spent the last 1.5 hours getting my gar dug out from a huge snowstorm we just had here in Ch-Town.  Probably at least 9 inches where I live at.  That got me started thinking…those of us with office jobs just have to commute from one point to and for the most part, one point back.  But what about those other workers that have to work outside every day? 

Like the postal workers, truck drivers, construction workers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, etc?  Take for example the taxi drivers. Yes, they are in a heated car, but they still have to drive around in this miserable weather probably for at least 10-12 hours per day, in order to make a decent living.  Then that got me started thinking …when was the last time that I actually took a taxi?

Well, that was probably over two years ago when I went into the city.  Of course, back then, Cybersecurity was not so much on my mind as it is now.  But even then, I wondered, even if you paid for your taxi fare with a credit card, how do know for sure that the swiper in the car is for real and not rigged to steal your credit card number? 

Fortunately, this never happened to me, but this was a very unfortunate situation for many taxi users in Toronto, Canada.  Apparently, there was a huge taxi fare scam going on that so far, has led to the arrest of five suspects who now face more than 260 charges of Identity Theft.  Apparently, the people involved have made use of some sort of specialized credit card skimmers in order to steal the credit card numbers of their customers.

It is important to note however, it is not the taxi cab companies that have hired these drivers whom are being investigated – just the drivers themselves.  If anything, these companies have been more than cooperative with the Toronto law enforcement officials.  This credit card fraud scheme has been going over for a year now, and have cost Canadian citizens well over $1 Million Canadian.

Here is how the scheme has worked thus far:

The taxi driver picks up a customer and then takes them to whatever destination that they want to go to. If the customer does not have any cash on hand decides opts to pay with a credit card or debit card, the taxi driver then literally hands to the customer an altered credit card/debit card swiper.

After the customer inputs their PIN Number into the reader, an error message is returned on the screen. The taxi driver then asks for the reader as well as the credit card or debit card in order to supposedly “rectify the problem.”

From here, the taxi driver then exchanges (in a covert manner) the customer’s credit card or debit card with a phony card from the same financial institution, and completes the transaction using the real card, and keeps it, so that it can be used later.

The key point to be remembered here is that this scheme has been executed during late night and early morning hours, when the customer is are likely to be much less alert. Also, the phony credit card/debit card swiper even records the customer’s PIN Number. 

Once the taxi driver has the real credit card or debit card, they can pretty much do what they want with it, which can range the gamut from stealing money from the customer’s bank accounts to making fraudulent purchase, and even launching Identity Theft Attacks.

The Toronto police have also warned that despite the key arrests that have been made, this fraud scheme is still going on, and is even proliferating.  It is thought that these other taxi drivers that are on the loose are acting independently, or are outwitting a close friend or family member that actually owns a taxi to let them use their vehicle in order to act as a real taxi driver.

My thoughts on this?

I have a few, and they are:

*With so many Canadians using taxis in the Toronto area, how on earth can a taxi cab driver have so many phony credit cards on hand that look like the real thing? Do these so-called taxi cab drivers print them on their own (which can be quite easily done), or do they operate as a much larger collective so that there are more phony cards that are available to them?

*Even if a phony card is returned, how can the customer not see that it is not their own, unique credit card?  Obviously, their name and or business is imprinted onto the original, so how can they not take notice that their name and/or business is not on the phony one?  I have to cut some slack here, because the phony taxi cab drivers did take a very special effort in order to take advantage of their customers when they were at their weakest in terms paying attention to the finer details of things.

So, this brings up another memory:  Back in the last decade, when I had my first business, I actually travelled a lot to the city (I did not have a full-time job at the time), and took the taxi many a time.  Back then, I had to actually give my credit card to the taxi driver, and from there, then he or she would swipe it on their portable reader.

Of course, I kept a close on eye on what they were doing, and always asked for a receipt.  But back then, credit card fraud was not so rampant as it is now, and there was a certain leap of faith that you could take.  But now, in the Ch-Town taxis, there credit card/debit swipers that are located on the back seat, directly in front of you, so that there is no driver intervention involved.

So, what can you do stay safe in situations like these?

*If possible, always pay with cash.  Of course, one never knows when they will need really need a taxi, bit it is always best on hand to have some cash on hand to pay for those commutes.

*Always pay with a credit card, never with a debit card.  With the former, if you become a victim of credit card fraud, you are losses are only limited to $50 under current law. With the latter, there is no limit.  If your whole bank account is drained, that all of that money is gone, and there is nothing that can be done about it.

*Always write down the cab number and the name of the taxi company whenever you ride in a cab.

*If there is no credit card or debit reader in the taxi, and you don’t have the cash, and taxi cab driver is demanding to have your card, immediately call the taxi company as well as the police.  Under no condition should you give your credit card or debit card to the cab driver if you do not feel comfortable in doing so.

*Never ever leave your credit card or debit card out of your site when paying your taxi fare.

*Also take note of the taxi can drivers’ number and jot that down as well.

*It is always a good rule of thumb to check your credit card activity online at least twice daily, to make sure that there is no fraudulent activity occurring. Remember, most phony activity first starts with small amounts, when you least expect it.

The above are just some general tips to keep in mind.  These apply even if you are taking a more specialized form of public transportation, such as Uber, limousine, etc.