Uber's 'Vomit Fraud' Sounds Worse Than Surge Pricing

By Rhett Jones on at

As an Uber driver, you have to deal with low wages, an uncertain future, and the possibility of getting yelled at by the company’s billionaire founder. There’s also the more common issue of drunk people puking in your back seat. But a news report claims passengers in the US city of Miami, Florida are getting hit with fees even after they kept their puke to themselves, a practice called “vomit fraud.”

Uber’s policy stipulates that passengers can be charged up to a triple-digit fee if they cause damage or make a significant mess in a driver’s vehicle. A user typically gets a notification saying that an “adjustment” has been applied to their bill, the alleged damage is given as a reason for the fee, and photos of the issue are included.

The Miami Herald spoke with multiple passengers in the Miami area who claim they’ve been victims of vomit fraud. One man, William Kennedy, said that he was wrongly billed for cleaning fees twice in one night. After “numerous emails” fighting the charges, he was reimbursed but, according to the Herald, the process of disputing the fees is invariably difficult and Uber typically backs the driver’s claim.

One journalist who works for the Herald’s Spanish language sister paper claims that she ordered an Uber and the driver never arrived to pick her up. After cancelling the trip and getting a different driver, she later found she’d been charged $16 (£12) by the driver who never arrived for a ride she never took, a $6 (£5) cancellation fee, and a $150 (£114) vomit tax. After four emails disputing the charges, Uber reportedly agreed to give her a refund, saying “it was an uncomfortable experience because the driver started the trip without you in the car.”

Uber passengers have vocally complained about erroneous cleaning fees for years. In January, a woman in Melbourne, Australia went to the press claiming she was wrongly charged 150 AUD  (£85) for what the driver called, a “Level 4 major bodily fluid mess.” And in 2016, a Tampa area driver was reportedly booted from the platform after charging multiple customers cleanup fees for suspiciously similar looking messes. One Uber driver speaking on condition of anonymity told the Herald that it’s not uncommon for drivers to file illegitimate charges, fight any disputes, and win. Many people don’t check their credit card receipts and the charge simply goes unnoticed.

We reached out to Uber to ask for comment on the claims in the report and to request any statistics it has about disputed cleaning fees but we did not receive an immediate response.

A spokesperson for the company told the Herald “with 15 million trips a day, Uber is unfortunately not immune to these types of incidents.” When reached by Gizmodo, Uber sent the following statement: “Participating in fraudulent activity of any kind is a clear violation of our Community Guidelines. We are constantly evaluating our processes and technology related to these claims and will take appropriate action whenever fraud may be detected.”

Users should be aware that it’s possible they could find an unexpected fee on their account, but it’s hard to see what better system would work aside from mandating video cameras be in place in the vehicle to record any incidents. Uber drivers use their own cars when they’re on the job and the fee is designed to cover professional cleaning costs. Lyft also charges a damage fee of up to $250 (£191).

The cleaning charge can also be a legitimate way for Uber drivers with a strong stomach to make some extra cash. Uber driver Will Preston told Business Insider last year that he welcomes inebriated passengers after he realised that he could skip a professional cleaner, do the dirty work himself, and pocket the fee.

Just know that vomit fraud is possible, check your charges after a ride, tip, give five stars, and if there’s an issue go here to report a fraudulent cleaning charge. If it was a particularly wild night, you might want to really search your memory about what happened, or you might end up paying over a hundred quid for the privilege of watching dash cam footage of yourself being a sloppy mess. [Miami Herald]