By Calvi Leon
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
More people have come forward to London police to say they were taken in by two men in a taxi-payment fraud scheme that police initially reported had defrauded 20 people of $100,000.
London police say there are now more than 35 reports of a fake cabbie-rider duo duping strangers in the London area, up from the initial 20 reports that prompted a police warning Monday. Police also said Thursday that it now appears at least two bogus cabs were operating in the city at the same time.
In each case, a male who appears to be in his late teens tells a stranger walking by that the driver of the taxi he has taken won’t accept cash because of COVID-19. He asks them to pay the fare using their debit card with a promise to reimburse them with cash, police said. The stranger is given a debit machine to make the payment and is repaid the amount in cash, police said. The driver provides a receipt and a debit card to the stranger.
The people who provide their cards later realize they have been cheated after discovering a large sum of money has been removed from their bank account and their card has been swapped for a lookalike, police said.
Giuliana Perri said she and her wife lost more than $3,000 after they agreed to help a man pay his $8 cab fare. The pair said they were leaving the Farm Boy near Masonville Place on the evening of Jan. 6 when he approached them and asked they pay his fare because the driver wouldn’t take cash. Perri discovered she had been deceived the next day when her debit card was declined.
London police said Monday the scheme had cost 20 people a total of $100,000 , with those defrauded losing between $1,100 and $13,000. An updated estimate has not been provided since additional people have come forward to say they lost money to the pair.
Police said the incidents occurred over several days, but none have taken place since Monday.
Investigators have released surveillance images of the two suspects and their vehicle.
Police describe one man as between 18 and 20 who was wearing a puffy jacket, Timberland boots, a black hat and a medical mask. The second man, around 40, was wearing black clothing, a black hat and medical mask.
Police said Monday the vehicle used in the scam is believed to be a silver four-door 2014 Nissan Altima, with a fake taxi sign on the roof. On Thursday, police said some complainants told investigators the suspects were using a black Nissan Altima.
The additional reports came after police issued a public warning Monday reminding residents to be careful using their debit cards. A similar warning was issued by Toronto police in the fall after dozens of people reported falling for the scam.
London police believe there are still more people who were taken by the pair.
“We believe that there are more victims out there and we are appealing to members of the public to contact us if they were a victim of this particular fraud or scam,” spokesperson Const. Sandasha Bough said Thursday.
Anyone with information related to the incidents is asked to contact police at 519-661-5515, ext. 5257, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Calvi Leon is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the LONDON FREE PRESS. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.