Uber’s ride-sharing service has given birth to some of the most creative criminal scams to date, including using a GPS-spoofing app to rip off riders in Nigeria, and even ginning up fake drivers by using stolen identities.
Add to those this nefariously genius operation: Cybercriminals, many working in Russia, have created their own illegitimate taxi services for other crooks by piggybacking off Uber’s ride-sharing platform, sometimes working in collaboration with corrupt drivers.
Based on several Russian-language posts across a number of criminal-world sites, this is how the scam works: The scammer needs an emulator, a piece of software which allows them to run a virtual Android phone on their laptop with the Uber app, as well as a virtual private network (VPN), which routes their computer’s traffic through a server in the same city as the rider.
The scammer acts, in essence, as a middleman between an Uber driver and the passenger—ordering trips through the Uber app, but relaying messages outside of it. Typically, this fraudulent dispatcher uses the messaging app Telegram to chat with the passenger, who provides pickup and destination addresses. The scammer orders the trip, and then provides the car brand, driver name, and license plate details back to the passenger through Telegram.
In one Russian-language crime-forum post, a scammer says their service runs in some 20 cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as Kiev in Ukraine and Minsk in Belarus; another thread suggests the service has been used in New York and Portugal as well.
In some cases, the scam middleman will use an Uber promotional code or voucher for a free or discounted ride—meaning they’d just pocket whatever fee charged to the passenger. In another variation of the scheme, some scammers are working with drivers to split profits—one post explicitly says the scammer cooperates with drivers.
“Presumably, this service would operate similarly to other money laundering schemes, in which the service provider would use compromised payment credentials to cover the cost of the Uber ride for a customer, who would pay him/her the discounted rate,” David S. Mainor, who manages financial-crime analysis at cybersecurity firm FireEye, told The Daily Beast.