I heard from my nephew that Uber drives are sometimes so desperate to make money that they would randomly charge cleaning fees for no reason whatsoever. Is this true? What can I do to stop it or make sure it doesn't happen.
What is the "cleaning fees" and "vomit" SCAM by Uber drivers? Should I be concerned? How do I avoid them?
The Guru Take
Cleaning Fee is disputed often. Some are blatant scams. Some are in gray areas.
The "cleaning fee scam" is when an Uber driver fabricates or exaggerates damages to their vehicle in order to collect a large cleaning fee.
Drivers can collect anywhere from $20 to $150 an incident by reporting damages to Uber. (or more, if a professional help is needed and there is a receipt.) The driver needs to submit a photo evidence directly to Uber. The cleaning fees are charged back to the offending customer.
Fabrication: In some scams, the Uber driver simply makes up an incident by reporting food spills or bodily fluids soiling the car. Since a photo is required, the driver would create an artificial mess and snap a pic. Some are known to simply submit a photo they find on the Internet. (Some drivers have shared with us that fake barfs and water bottles are used to make up a mess.)
Exaggeration: In some cases, the passengers do make some mess. Some drivers take advantage of this by artificially making the mess bigger or simply exaggerating it on the claims form to Uber. There are four levels of cleaning fees, and if they can bump it up, they can earn more money. (related: How much are cleaning fees? - 4 Levels)
Why does this work?
This scam often works for multiple reasons. One common reason is that the passenger may not notice they were charged the fee. Uber is extremely simple to use, where a credit card is automatically charged and the receipt is sent to the Inbox. Many people do not bother checking those receipts or the amount charged. If you do not notice? The driver just got away.
The passenger may also not remember the incident clearly, and it can become the driver's word against passenger's word. If you fell asleep or were intoxicated, you may not remember well and you may have a difficult time arguing and making your case to Uber. This can also happen when there are multiple passengers where the person who was charged cannot remember if a friend had made a mess.
When a driver exaggerates the damage, it is difficult to catch for the passenger. For example, if you spilled your drink, it may have been a simple clean up at $20. However, the driver can claim a larger damage, say on the upholstery, where a professional cleaning was performed at $80.
How to avoid and what to do when you suspect a scam.
As a passenger, you want to be diligent by reviewing every Uber receipt to make sure a fake cleaning fee was not assessed. If you indeed created a mess, you want to check whether the charge is fitting of the damage caused. Take a look at the different cleaning fees assessed: How much are cleaning fees? - 4 Levels.
If you do suspect a fraud/scam, you want to contact Uber immediately and make your case. In some cases, Uber will send you the photo of the incident that the driver uploaded. Is it really the mess you made?