There’s nothing new about New York City’s illegal taxi drivers milling around the exit doors at JFK, trying to solicit business. However, these days, they’ve upped their game so things are even more sketchy. RELATED: How to Do Airport Pick-Ups Like a Boss
These guys drive what are often referred to as gypsy cabs in New York, which, according to Wikipedia, are “Illegal taxicabs, sometimes known as pirate taxis, gypsy cabs, or jitney cabs, that are taxicabs and other for-hire vehicles that are not duly licensed or permitted by the jurisdiction in which they operate.” I took one once decades ago when I was desperate to get somewhere fast and the taxi line at LGA was stretched around the block. It was fine because I negotiated the fare upfront but I might have just gotten lucky.

But now, it may be hard for some people to identify who’s legit and who’s not. When my family and I exited JFK Airport recently, I saw at least a half a dozen men standing right out of the exit doors of Terminal 8 (American Airlines) and one was even inside at baggage claim. They all had their cell phones prominently displayed with their home screen lit up, which read “UBER” in large block letters. Obviously, they weren’t Uber drivers but not everyone would know that, especially our older population.

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When a guy came up to me asking, “Do you need a ride” I just said, “No, thank you” and kept on walking. But I heard an old lady behind me say, “You’re Uber?” And the man said, “Yes, I am.” That’s when I got pissed and while he was trying to win her over, I walked by her and whispered, “He’s not Uber.”

She later thanked me but if it had been someone like my dad, who can’t hear or see well, they could have easily taken advantage of him with their tricks, which are usually to charge an astronomical fare (if you don’t negotiate it up front) or to not honor the rate you agreed on before getting in, by holding your luggage hostage in the trunk until you pony up more money.

But the real reason you don’t want to take them is because there’s no built-in safety net like there is with rideshares. So, how can you be sure they have insurance, track their history (unless I’m desperate, I don’t get into an Uber unless the driver has a 4.8 or higher rating and has been driving with the company for a while), share your location with a friend and rate them? Bottom line: They can’t be trusted and it starts with their sales pitch.

Even a New York City hotel where I had a reservation, warned of these drivers in a welcome email to me a couple days prior. One of the tips listed was: “If you intend to come to our hotel by taxi, we advise you to use official NYC Yellow Cab via Taxi Stand. Avoid illegal solicitation from any other drivers as they may not be charging correctly.”

So no matter where you are in the world, you always want to avoid illegal taxis and car services as you just don’t know. I’ve seen them many times hanging about airports and tourist destinations around the world but not many at U.S. airports, except at JFK. I’m not sure why the Port Authority or the NYPD hasn’t cracked down on them but my advice is to avoid them altogether. What you want to do is only get into a car that you’ve either ordered yourself (don’t forget to check the driver’s rating if you’re taking an Uber or a Lyft), take a reputable car service, or take an official taxi and pick it up from the taxi line. If you’re at a tourist destination, walk to a nearby hotel and ask the doorman to arrange a taxi for you.

On a related topic, an Australian friend of mine, who was in Miami attending a conference a couple of years ago, told me about how he was walking to his hotel from one of the nightclubs after having a few too many. When a car pulled up and the driver said, “Do you need an Uber?” he said he foolishly jumped in. The last thing he remembered is the driver giving him a refreshing, cold bottle of water, which was obviously laced because the next thing he remembered was waking up hours later on the side of the road. His watch and wallet were gone and there were a lot of charges made to his credit cards. This is obviously not the norm and being intoxicated doesn’t help anything but it can happen and is why it’s imperative to always verify any car and driver before getting in.

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28 Comments On "Alert: Don't Fall For This Scam at Airports"
  1. Sandra|

    Taxis from JFK to midtown Manhattan charge a flat rate of $52 (last time I checked). I don’t know how this compares to Uber but it seemed like a good deal to me.

  2. Sandra|

    Taxis charge a flat rate of $52 from JFK to midtown Manhattan (last time I checked). I don’t know how this compares to Uber but it seemed reasonable considering the unpredictable traffic.

  3. Joan|

    Use the uber app. An uber driver will come to meet you. Check the license plate, the photo and the rating. The driver will call. You by name before you get in the car.

  4. Anonymous|

    If you wanna advertise for your own business (blacklane) just do that but don’t try to bring others making a living for them self down in the process i’m from NY born and raised and these guys are live savers yes sometimes they might try to take advantage of tourists but that’s everywhere even the yellow cab or Uber takes advantage of tourists so please if you got nothing good to say just keep quiet and say nothing at all

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I don’t work for Blacklane anymore. I’m just trying to prevent my readers from getting ripped off. I actually don’t recommend Blacklane out of NYC now as their rates are much higher than other car services (especially to CT)

      1. Agent 037|

        You pretty much pitched a far fetched story about something that really doesn’t happen anymore,.or you think TLC officers get paid to do nothing?? In the biggest city in the world?? C’mon!.. I’m an Uber driver, if your story would be somewhere close to reality you wouldn’t be hearing actual news about Uber drivers(and even yellow cabs) shortages in the City. I hardly doubt that when you’re in a need of a car you pay attention to Uber drivers ratings, the only good thing about the rating system is that it wouldn’t match you with a driver or a passenger you or The driver has given 2 stars or less, all else is just hot Air.

    2. Not anonymous|

      How dare you try to defend these unlicensed drivers who are clearly in the wrong, both legally and morally.

  5. michael mowatt|

    hotel people hustle tourists also, they have their private taxi friends. yellow cabs are the safest and can be reported for any mis-deeds.

  6. Anonymous|

    Not everyone can afford uber or blacklane rates the comment above is correct no everyone in t his world is a crook.

  7. Keith mccartney|

    I would think as a journalist you would have to somehow feel compelled to cite the story of friend/water/watch/wallet/ditch? Too much Tom foolery these days. Also if everyone took your advice there would be no new Uber drivers. Which of I am correct is a large part of the reason the fares have become unbearable.

  8. Rachel|

    A cautionary tale would be your friend telling others not to have “one too many” especially while out alone. This caused him to use very poor judgement and he’s lucky his valuables were his only loss

  9. Barbara|

    I use Lyft and have had good results, but I always ask the driver what his/her name is. If it does not match what my app reads I know it is not a Lyft. What is disturbing is a driver told me he had been driving for 3 years and I was the only person that asked his name. He said, they see the Lyft sign and just jump in. Sometimes he has to ask them to get out because they are not the right people to pick up. At 75 I travel alone and I have never had any travel issues and yes there are good people out there, but a little caution goes a long way to happy travels.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Great tip!

  10. NYC Taxi|

    NYC Medallion Yellow Taxis have been safely serving the Airports for as long as there have been airports. The license of the driver is visible as the medallion number of the vehicle. The rates are governed by the taxi commission (TLC) and if there is a problem you can report it to the TLC.

    There is no safer way to travel to where you go from the airport or any other location in the City of New York

  11. Ziggy|

    I wonder how many Uber stars do you have. All of your tips are as old as the day is long. You are on bias man. Yes bias as it can be . You said you only take drivers that are 4.8 stars. I’m a Uber driver and if I only drive riders with 4.8 stars I will have no passengers at all. I guarantee you that you are not 4.8 stars. Stop looking only for your own interest. You must be the one the never tip us. Stop this garbage if yours, Drivers this, drivers that, Drivers should be this way. How about the garbage riders that we have to deal every day?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I’m not ragging on Uber drivers. I love them so not sure what you’re talking about. I’m warning people about not taking fake Uber drivers. I have a 4.83 rating. Would be higher but I let my dad use my account and he can’t hear well so some drivers are impatient with him.

    2. Chaz|

      That’s precisely why I won’t use rideshares at all. When I hire a car, the driver works for the passenger, not the other way around. The driver shouldn’t be rating riders anyway. At least, not based on whether or not they tip or they were nice to you. That’s not how customer service works. A car service is paid based on the service they provide and tipped based on the exceptional service they provide. Rideshares expect tips no matter what kind of crappy service they provide and if they don’t get one, they give the rider a low rating.

  12. David|

    This story is old and ridiculous.. Uber and Lyft work on destroying trip price to protect basic workers right..the cost of a true driver that just has to destroy his car thru the streets of NYC. Is not paid by the Uber’s and the Lyft’s company to those guys… They deserve to get reversed ROBBED

  13. Palle|

    I do not understand why Uber riders are still getting to wrong vehicles or unauthorized vehicles.

    Why do I say, I don’t understand? Uber riders are provided with the Uber driver’s vehicle license plate, vehicle make & model, first name, and a picture of the Uber driver. License plate being the first thing that should be verified.

    Why are Uber riders making such careless mistakes? Uber did all the hard work for the riders. It’s the drivers that are at the greater risk of transporting the wrong person.

    And account holders need to make sure they notify the Uber driver if a friend or family member is riding under their account and the account holder will not be present.

    And if Uber account holders are ordering Ubers for someone else other than themselves, it’s imperative that they screen shot a copy of the Uber order information containing the Uber driver information.

    There are no excuses today for Uber riders getting into the wrong vehicles and or wrong drivers. Vehicle and driver information should be verified. Otherwise don’t get in!!!

  14. Palle|

    P.S. Asking the driver, “What’s your name?” can still be the wrong start, how about the name just happens to be the same? I experienced this situation before, it is possible.

    So how about verifying the vehicle license plates first? Then asking the Uber driver with the Uber picture profile, Hi, my name is, what’s your name?

    Revealing your name verifies to the driver who you are, and you can verify the driver simultaneously, it’s not one way. That’s a proper verification process.

    Yes, an experienced highly rated driver knows how to quickly verify a rider with ease. It’s a beautiful process when drivers and riders know how to behave properly.

  15. UKtraveller|

    For those defending the illegal ubers just trying to make a living, I stupidly got in one of these illegal/fake ubers after arriving at JFK, after a long flight. Tried to charge me $360 from JFK to a hotel in times square. After a lot of crossed words and threats i parted ways with $200.
    Always get a yellow cab or an uber through the app.

  16. Mark Spreadbury|

    I just got caught out by a fake Uber driver (the first time I’ve used the app), getting a cab from JFK to my hotel. He demanded $75 plus tip for a $15 ride, which he indicated that I couldn’t refuse. Wish I’d read this article first!!! Older and wiser…

  17. Mark|

    Watch out for black SUV LJM9638…this guy is a complete crook.
    Claimed to get us a taxi then put our bags in his car, citing he was uber, when I finally paid him he switched out $50 notes with $1 notes then argued that we where trying to rip him off. Would not release our suitcases till we made up difference…after 30 hrs travel to get there it was easy for him…slimy prick.. no one else gets caught…I would not surprised if he ends up in a shallow grave if he gets the wrong person

  18. SA|

    THANK YOU for sharing!! I had a negative experience at JFK w/ “fake Uber” drive

  19. Christian|

    Wow I feel like An Idiot… I blindly fell for this Exact thing this morning At JFK Airport, Needing to Transfer to LGA airport.
    His phone was lite up with Uber driver just like you mentioned in your article.
    I asked how much and the Driver avoided the question. Stupid me I jumped in the vehicle and as we were pulling up the driver said It was gonna be $141 US dollars for the 15-18 minute tops ride at 5:30am.
    Hopefully this stops this Prick from praying on others. His vehicle is a black Chevy Traverse
    Plate # NYMGL139 New York Plate

  20. Christian|

    Be aware of a Black Chevy Traverse LS
    Plate #NYMGL139

  21. Christian|

    I feel like An Idiot but This exact thing just happened to me. I blindly Jumped in With a guy that was standing outside the gate with his phone line up With Uber on it.
    I asked how much To get To LGA airport from JFK. He avoided answering. Stupid me I jumped in regardless.
    Big mistake the 15-18 minute ride costed me $141 US dollars.
    Hopefully this stops others from being suckered
    Black Chevy Traverse plate #NYMGL139

  22. Starfall|

    Great article! Definitely will take this account if i am ever travelling to u.s!

    Not sure why there are so many hate comments… i wonder if some of them are even part these scammers trying to scam tourists or esle why be mad…

    For ubers and other rideshare drivers, take ur anger and beef with those scammers they are the ones that are ruining ur companies name 💀

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