A woman in New York City claims she was the victim of a bold lie by an Uber driver, saying he used fake vomit to charge her $200 in cleaning fees.
Similar incidents have been reported in other cities, including Los Angeles and Tampa.
Art director Meredith Mandel, who frequently uses Uber, says she used the service early in the morning of Feb. 21 from Fort Greene to Williamsburg.
Mandel told Gothamist that she, her boyfriend, and a friend were in the vehicle, and there were no problems. But when she woke up later that morning, she saw a $200 cleaning charge tacked onto the $19 fare, with no explanation.
Mandel said a customer service representative told her that the driver informed the company “that there was a mess on the trip resulting in the need for a car cleaning.”
— Gothamist (@Gothamist) March 2, 2016
The driver, Muhammad, said she and her companions were drunk, and he shared pictures that allegedly showed vomit.
But Mandel says that her party did not throw up, and dug deeper.
“I was infuriated, because I realized that it actually is a scam,” she told Gothamist. “At first I was trying to actually give them the benefit of a doubt, but I realized [it is] because all of the money goes to the drivers.”
Several big pieces of evidence support her claim—the photos appear to show portions of the car’s front seat and dashboard, but Mandel says she and her companions rode in the back. She also noted that the purported puke was confined to easily washed surfaces.
She said she and her boyfriend and her friend were “basically sober” when they rode home.
It’s not the first time Uber drivers have come under scrutiny for allegedly using fake vomit to collect fees.
Manhattan rider “Billy” said via Reddit last year that he also found a $200 cleaning fee after arriving home from his girlfriend’s house. After back-searching the pictures the driver submitted of the vomit, he linked them to a 2014 post on a ride sharing website. Billy ultimately got his money back. Mandel also said she’s gotten her money back.
But in both cases, it’s unclear if the drivers have been punished in any way.
After a driver in Tampa was found to have used fake vomit to try to extract fees, he was fired, reported WFLA.
“I get home in the morning and I received an email saying, ‘Your fare has been adjusted and to account for the mess that you all made, we took out $100.’ It was laughable. I thought it was like eggs,” Tampa attorney Alex Serrano said.
After a lengthy back-and-forth, the company refused to refund Serrano and another passenger but eventually did so when the local broadcaster got involved.
Multiple incidents have also been reported in Los Angeles. Uber eventually refunded a passenger who said she was hit with a bill that was apparently for cleaning up rain that had gotten into the car when the passenger got in and out during a storm.
“I think that it could have easily been solved with just a simple towel-wipe, and I’m sure that that’s what he did and then pocketed $100,” Amy Johnson told CBS. After posting about it on Twitter, Uber contacted her and refunded the money.
On the other side, though, a New York driver told Gothamist that vomit is a real problem, especially late at night.
“When I see somebody too drunk, I ask them, ‘Are you sure you’re okay to ride? You’re not going to vomit in the car?'” the driver explained. “Ten, fifteen minutes later, they puke all over the car.”