Taken for a ride in private-hire scam

At least eight other victims have made reports about bogus Grab/Uber promotional packages after the "operator" they were supposed to book their rides with stopped answering their texts and calls. PHOTO: ST FILE, BLOOMBERG

It was an attractive deal that was too good to pass on.

For $888, passengers who opted for private-hire car rides with Grab or Uber could redeem 128 trips. This worked out to about $6.90 a ride - regardless of distance travelled and with no expiry date on the rides.

A private-hire car passenger who wanted only to be known as Ms Ong, 24, took the bait and bought the "Grab/Uber promotional package" with her sister and cousin, after hearing about it last month.

However, after using the package for about a month, the undergraduate soon discovered it was a scam after the "operator" they were supposed to book their rides with stopped answering their texts and calls last Wednesday.

"Before purchasing, I thought it was a scam but my sister's friend who introduced it to us had been using the service. That's why we decided to buy it," said Ms Ong, who made a police report on Monday.

At least eight other victims have made reports about the bogus "Grab/Uber promotional packages" since last week, said a police spokesman in an advisory released yesterday. Victims lost at least $7,700 through the scam with one victim paying a total of $1,300.

The bogus deal was promoted through a message stating there was a Chinese New Year promotion package for private-hire car services, and those interested could contact an "operator" via WhatsApp. They were then instructed to transfer money to bank accounts to purchase the packages.

However, after making payments, victims were not able to redeem the rides and the seller became uncontactable.

Ms Ong said, for about four weeks, the "package" seemed like the real deal.

"The service worked well, and we took about 16 rides in total before he suddenly went missing.

"We thought it was another maintenance issue, but when my sister contacted her friend, we realised that the 'operator' might have run away," she added.

Victims of the scam have set up a WhatsApp group to pool together their experiences. There are about 200 members so far.

Responding to queries, a Grab spokesman said it is assisting authorities in investigations and also advised users to refer to official Grab sources for promotional information.

An Uber spokesman said it will assist the authorities in investigations. She added that Uber promotions are typically conducted within the app, and for safety and security, users are encouraged to use Uber products or services via the app.

The police also advise members of the public to purchase rides only from official sources and to always exercise caution when purchasing items at prices that sound too good to be true.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline Taken for a ride in private-hire scam. Subscribe