Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 17, 2019 12:19 EST
Last Updated on Thursday, January 17, 2019 13:21 EST
TORONTO – A fraud and identity theft operation that is targeting taxi drivers in the larger Toronto area has already cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the city police said on Thursday, announcing a series of arrests in the case.
Det. Const. Kristin Thomas said the 262 accusations against four men, a woman and a teenage boy only mark the beginning of the solution to the alleged deception, which she said has faked their clients for more than a year.
"We are in millions of losses when you put them all together," Thomas said about the amounts of money involved. Police received reports of alleged frauds during 2018, but it has been several months before a model starts to appear, she said.
Thomas said the alleged fraud involves customers traveling to cabins belonging to more taxi companies of a licensed company instead of traveling with emergency services such as Uber or Lyft.
Customers report that they are trying to pay their bills by entering their bank or credit cards in a car at the point of sale that records their PINs and displays an error message that suggests that the transaction has not worked well, Thomas said.
She said drivers would take the car again on the pretense of trying to fix the error, at which point they would have changed the client's card for another issued by the same financial institution. The customer leaves the cabin believing that the fare was successfully paid and did not notice the card exchange, she said.
Thomas said drivers later use the stolen bank card and regular PIN code to access customer accounts, claiming they sometimes do it directly or share information with their accomplices.
Thomas said the police had six arrests in the case so far between mid-November and early this week.
Four men aged 20, including two 22-year-olds, a 48-year-old woman and a 16-year-old boy face 262 charges, she said. Fees include numerous frauds of over $ 5,000, identity theft, unauthorized use of debit or credit cards, and possession of property obtained through offenses.
Thomas said the suspects are all known to each other, but they did not provide any further details on the relationship between them.
She said taxi dealers in Toronto were very cooperative in the investigation, but did not provide details on which the suspects worked.
She warned that alleged fraud continued to be "very active" in the weeks of most arrests, with police receiving reports corresponding to the model several times a week. She said that scam seems to work throughout Toronto and surrounding towns.
She urged taxi passengers to take precautions with their financial information, noting that technology has changed the way electronic transactions are made.
"Keep your eyes on the debit card or visa at any time," she said. "It's not like we had to give you debts or visas over … You do not have to lose sight of."
Thomas also asked travelers to note the cabin number and the taxi company of any driver whose behavior is of concern.