A Toronto man who flagged down a very real-looking taxi is speaking out after he had his debit car swiped at the end of the ride by the not-so-real cab driver who took him home.
Stephen Lautens told CP24 that he and his wife had just left an event in downtown Toronto at around 11 p.m. Friday night when they spotted a cab on Bay Street and hopped in to go home.
After a pleasant ride making chitchat with the driver about world events, the couple arrived at their home and tried to pay with cash.
“My wife and I always have cash for taxis and I said, ‘Well, okay. Here it is,’” Lautens told CP24.com. “And he goes ‘Oh, you know, I don’t like cash. In COVID people weren’t handling cash, and drivers are a target for a robbery. Do you have a card?’”
Lautens said he offered to pay by Visa and was handed an older looking terminal without tap capability.
When he put in his card and attempted to pay, the machine returned a “connection failure” error.
The driver asked to see the machine, so Lautens handed it back.
“He said ‘well, that’s it. It’s not working. Do you have a debit card?’”
When the driver handed back the Visa, Lautens realized that it wasn’t his card.
“At that point, I noticed. I went like ‘Hey, wait a second. You’ve given me back the wrong credit card.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, you know people leave their wallet here all the time. I got a credit card. Here, just a second’ and he gives me back my credit card.”
Lautens then inserted his debit card and used his pin and the transaction appeared to go through.
“He goes ‘Sir, I got your receipt. Here’s your card back.’ And at this point like I’m fumbling with a bunch of cards and I got the receipt and all the rest of it and I get out of the cab,” Lautens said.
But when he went inside and laid his things down in the kitchen, he realized that the debit card was not his.
“It looks exactly like it – it’s an RBC debit card, it’s got the same colours.”
He looked at the receipt and saw that it was not his debit card listed. He then immediately opened up his laptop and cancelled his cards before phoning Beck.
“I said you know one of your cabs is driving around with my debit card,” Lautens said.
But when he gave Beck the cab licence number, they seemed as surprised as he was.
“A very nice woman there looked it up and goes, ‘We don’t have that license number. I don’t know who that belongs to.’”
She told him further that their vehicles are tracked and none of them had driven the route that Lautens and his wife had taken.
He filed a police report online, even though he had already cancelled his cards and luckily nothing was taken out of his accounts.
But he was shocked. The cab had looked like a regular taxi, from the colouring, to the lettering, to the roof light.
Speaking with CP24, Beck Taxi Spokesperson Kristine Hubbard said that’s probably because, in all likelihood, it had been a real cab at one point.
“It’s a taxi that was stolen from the owner in October,” Hubbard said. “So police know about it.”
She said Lauten’s call wasn’t the only one Beck received over the weekend.
“It was reported to police, it was reported to insurance, it was reported to the city and he (the real driver) has replaced the vehicle. So the concerning thing is now there are two vehicles that look identical. They are both branded as taxis, but one of them is legitimate, and one of them isn’t.”
Hubbard said she’s tried following up on the stolen cab and she’s “disappointed” that police and the city haven’t done more to bring it in.
She said she called police about it again after seeing Lauten’s tweet, but hung up after waiting on hold for 30 minutes.
She said she’s concerned that Municipal Licensing And Standards appears to have “issued a replacement plate and washed their hands of it.”
In an email to CP24, Toronto police said they are investigating the incident.
“I can advise that an online report was completed and is being investigated,” Const. Laura Brabant said in the email. “The Toronto Police Service would like to remind the public to be vigilant when using any type of public transport that results in debit or credit card transactions.”
She said that advice includes not leaving your debit or credit card unattended inside a point of sale terminal anywhere at any time, being aware of taxi numbers and company names when using their services, and being aware of the driver’s ID that is displayed to the customer in the rear of the cab. Police also advise people not to make payments for a stranger using your personal card in exchange for cash, inspect your card after each transaction and ensure it is your card, and cover your fingers when entering your PIN.
Hubbard said she thinks the situation should be given more attention as it is potentially serious.
“I would suggest that should be a priority, especially when they know that the person, whoever has stolen it, is actually picking people up,” she said.
She assured people that Beck would never have a policy where riders couldn’t pay cash.
She said she also hopes that city does more to enforce its standards.
“Especially at this time of year I do think there needs to be more of a presence out there for Municipal Licensing And Standards in this regard because there’s some people out drinking, and they’re counting on this safe ride home,” she said.
She also advised people that Beck has an app riders can use to hail a cab and to pay.
“You don’t have to exchange cards, you know, but if you are going to pay in a taxi that you flag on the street, your debit card should never be out of your hand,” she said.
As for Lautens, he said he just wants people to be aware of the scam so that they don’t fall prey to it.
“Clearly this is an organized ring to do this kind of stuff. They’re out there. There’s other people who are going to fall victim to it who aren’t as lucky as me and don’t notice it.”
He tweeted about his experience to warn others and the post has already been shared nearly 500 times.
He said it’s easy at this time of year for people to be distracted when they grab a ride, having perhaps had a drink at lunch or dinner and juggling multiple parcels.
He said in retrospect, the scammer felt “like a magician.”
“The whole idea is to keep you distracted so you’re not seeing what’s going on,” he said. “The whole idea of you know, the conversation you’re setting and all these little things to keep me distracted so they can do what they do. This was so professional. This wasn’t this guy’s first rodeo.”
If you are running around Toronto this season, beware – I grabbed a taxi home Friday. Got home and realized that the driver had swapped my debit card for someone else’s. When I called Becks Taxi to report (I had the cab number) they confirmed it was a fake taxi. #TOpoli
— Stephen Lautens (@stephenlautens)