Gig workers increasingly are being targeted by scammers online and even from the backseat

Old schemes are finding new victims in rideshare drivers and other gig workers, who are being preyed upon for their personal and financial information.

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Lenny Sanchez, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, is standing next to a white sedan car. He says he was frequently targeted by phishing scams while driving for Uber and Lyft. Now director of the Independent Drivers Guild of Illinois, Sanchez warns other rideshare drivers to be careful.

Lenny Sanchez says he was frequently targeted by phishing scams while driving for Uber and Lyft. Now director of the Independent Drivers Guild of Illinois, Sanchez warns other rideshare drivers to be careful.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

During five years, 8,000 rides and 1,000 food deliveries, rideshare driver Lenny Sanchez said he lost track of the number of times scammers tried to steal his earnings.

Con artists claiming to be from Uber or Lyft frequently pinged his phone, offering special bonuses or VIP jobs.

Their goal: to access his account login and reroute his pay to their bank accounts.

Sanchez said he never fell for the scams, but he knows many drivers who do.

“If you’re a gig worker in Chicago for longer than a month, you’ve definitely run into a scam artist,” said Sanchez, who left full-time rideshare driving in March 2020 and is now director of the Independent Drivers Guild of Illinois.

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In another scam, real-life passengers will pretend their phone died and ask the driver to use theirs. Then they access the driver’s rideshare account and switch the banking info to their own — “robbing them of their earnings from the back seat,” Sanchez said.

Steve Bernas, president and chief executive officer of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois, said he’s seen an uptick in all sorts of scams targeting gig workers reported to the BBB Scam Tracker since people lost full-time jobs in the pandemic or began working from home.

Workers who offer rides, deliver groceries, pet-sit or perform other tasks on apps are being targeted by old scams repurposed for the gig economy, including:

  • Fake websites that mimic real gig work platforms;
  • Emails or texts from scammers who pretend to be hiring freelancers;
  • Fake communications that appear to be from a real gig work app, claiming to need the worker’s login and password or their personal or banking information;
  • Fraudulent postings on social media offering high-paying orders on grocery shopping trips — if the gig worker pays an upfront fee.
Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois.

Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois.

Provided

Any request for an upfront fee is an obvious red flag, Bernas said, as is an offer of high pay for low-skilled work.

“It all comes down to being too good to be true,” he said. “People are not stupid. I think they’re just desperate.”

Some of the scams prey on people looking for work, then involve them in another scam.

That’s apparently what happened to Ronae Ellis of Harvey, who has a corporate job in quality assurance but sought outside gig work last spring to help pay her property tax bill.

After looking at job postings on a variety of websites, Ellis said she got a text from a woman who claimed she was with a well-known payment processing company. She hired Ellis for a job printing and mailing checks. The pay was $3,000 a month, and the company would reimburse Ellis for a laptop, printer, check paper and ink.

“I thought this would be perfect,” Ellis said. “This would get me back on track.”

Ellis worked for about three weeks, but then the woman who’d hired her started making excuses about paying Ellis. First, the woman said she was having trouble sending it through Zelle. Then it was a problem with Cash App.

And then the woman’s phone number went dead.

Ellis lost about $800 in supplies and now realizes her “work” may have been part of a check scam. She reported her experience on the BBB Scam Tracker to warn others.

“Normally, I’m not naïve,” Ellis said. “It was a learning experience.”

Uber and Lyft have both cautioned drivers to be alert for phishing scams that come by email, text or phone calls.

Instacart and DoorDash said they, too, educate gig workers about how to spot phishing scams and protect their accounts.

Grubhub said when a driver’s banking information is changed, the app automatically notifies the driver and places a 72-hour hold on the withdrawal of funds.

“These instances are rare on the Grubhub platform, but we nonetheless communicate proactively with all of our partners about the importance of protecting their personal information and keeping their accounts secure,” a spokeswoman said.

Lenny Sanchez is standing inside the Park Ridge office of the Independent Drivers Guild of Illinois. The group is one of several organizations hosting a gig workers event on Sunday.

Lenny Sanchez of the Independent Drivers Guild of Illinois, which is one of several groups hosting a gig workers event on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As for Sanchez, he said scam artists are just one more frustration for people trying to earn a living one ride or delivery at a time.

Rideshare drivers have a host of other concerns, he said, from being lured in by carjackers to more mundane issues like bathroom access.

The drivers’ guild and several other gig worker groups are holding a Chicago GigFest from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday at Grove 10 of Schiller Woods Forest Preserve to share information and press for better working conditions.

“It is brutal,” Sanchez said of the scams. “These guys are really creative.”

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