Scammers are getting creative these days, and some riders fell victims to these schemes

The coronavirus outbreak has made motorcycle courier riders the unsung heroes of the pandemic. At the height of the quarantine, their services became more valuable than ever.

With movement heavily restricted, many people (especially senior citizens who couldn’t leave their homes) relied on these services to get access to food, buy medicines, and even conduct business. The quarantine would have been a lot more difficult without them around.

Unfortunately, this convenient service has become the latest target of unscrupulous scammers. Because the service allows for cash on delivery (COD) — designed to cater to clients without a credit card or electronic payment system — many scams are designed to prey upon the hapless riders who have to cover the cost of these purchases upfront. Ideally, they are reimbursed for this upon delivery. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen.

Below, has compiled some of the modus operandi (MO) of scams that victimize our hardworking partner-riders working for courier services:

Prank booking

The most common of these scams victimizing riders is the “prank booking.” In this scam, a customer orders a large amount of food but has no genuine intention of paying for it. Worse still, the rider is sent to a different address either to prank the person living there or to misdirect the rider from the residence of the person who ordered the food. In pranks like these, the person living at the address given had never even ordered the food. In other cases, it's an empty home or doesn't exist entirely. In the worst cases, the pranksters are actually nearby filming one or many hapless riders arriving at the address but with no person to receive the items.

While this may seem funny to the prankster, it's not so funny for the rider. He or she is left with a ton of food that has already been paid for out of their own pocket for a significant amount. 

Bogus package

Scams victimizing Lalamove, Grab riders image

Another scam turns the rider into the unwitting buyer of a product, sometimes a really bulky one. It also takes advantage of the Cash on Delivery (COD) service. In this scheme, a scammer poses as a “buyer” needing a package purchased and delivered. The buyer instructs the rider to pick up an item, asks the rider to pay for the product, and meet up with him or her at a specified location. The item could be anything from an old pair of shoes, documents, or even a rock. After the transaction is completed, the rider is directed to a bogus location to deliver the package, but the "buyer" never shows up. It's at this point that the client no longer responds to the rider’s communication attempts, as he or she tries to locate the buyer.

As it turns out, this “buyer” is actually the “seller,” handing over the bogus item in exchange for the payment. The items usually end up being worthless. The meetup and drop off locations can be a public place or an actual address. In the case of a residential address, those people living at the residence probably have no idea about the transaction. It's a cruel scheme where the rider once again ends up out of cash simply for doing their job.

In the photo above, the rider was scammed into picking up an item worth PhP3,500. He shelled this out (abono) of his own money. At the drop off place, the supposed receiver was nowhere to be found.

Fake money transfer

Scams victimizing Lalamove, Grab riders image

Among the more sophisticated scams out there is one that takes advantage of free text (SMS) messaging services available online. These services can message anyone in the world for free. Unfortunately, their anonymous nature has been taken advantage of to scam honest sellers and partner-riders.

The modus is simple: the “buyer” will order an item — typically an electronic gadget like a cellphone or camera — and arranges to exchange with the courier at a designated meetup place. At the meetup place, the “buyer” will then fabricate a text message using TLNET or similar free messaging service. This text message is designed to look exactly like a payment confirmation text message sent by banks to their client after a successful money transfer is made.

This message will then be shown to the seller or partner-rider to convince them that payment has been made. Because of the anonymity, timing, and wording of the message, it's difficult for many to determine if it's authentic or not. All the while, the “buyer” pressures the partner-rider to hand over the item. By the time either the partner-rider or seller finds out the confirmation message was false, the bogus buyer has already disappeared with the goods without paying for it. Once again, this scam leaves the rider robbed of his money.

Expensive purchases

Scams victimizing Lalamove, Grab riders image

As a means of security, delivery services like Lalamove or Grab typically impose a cash on delivery limit, usually around PhP2,000 to prevent large-scale scams. Amounts below this ceiling can be easily covered by the company. Amounts larger than this all together are discouraged for obvious reasons.

Nonetheless, with some riders looking to score more deliveries, a bigger paycheck, and a better rating, the temptation is often too much to resist. Similar to the bogus package scheme mentioned above, these big-ticket items work in the same way, only with a heftier pricetag.

Buyers ask riders to pick up an item with a hefty price tag, forward the payment, and meet up at a specified location. The meetups are typically a public location and not a specific home or office address.

In some cases, the item is described to be very big or expensive and thus won't be brought out until payment is made. After receiving the payment, the “seller” excuses him or herself to retrieve the item, but never actually returns. In some cases, the riders are still made to pick up a package and sent to a bogus address. This address turns out to be fake or made up, with no recipient waiting and the package turning out to be worthless.

The real victims

Unfortunately, there are already a lot of partner-riders who were victimized by these schemes. Many of them are fathers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are just trying to make ends meet by being a motorcycle courier. Some, even go home with even more debt as the cash they had in hand to cover these deliveries was just money borrowed from a friend or loanshark. The interest may even accumulate, making it harder for the rider to pay back the amount.

Orders like these may be reimbursed by their employer, however, it often takes days or even weeks to be processed. Sometimes it requires even more paperwork like a police report or a statement signed by a notary public. In the meantime, the rider will have to get by with significantly less money than when they started with.

HB 6958

Earlier this month, Ako Bicol party-list representative, Alfredo Garbin, filed House Bill 6958 or the “Food and Grocery Delivery Services Act”. If it becomes a law, anyone who is found guilty of pranking or canceling a confirmed order from a Lalamove, GrabFood, or any similar service could face jail time of up to 6 years and fine of up to PhP100,000.

The bill aims to protect motorcycle courier services or partner-riders from individuals who have no genuine intention of availing of their services. After all, these scams or cancels orders not only waste the riders' time and effort, it also hurts them financially.

How you can help

It may take some time before the bill goes through a bicameral and is passed into law. In the meantime, these unsung heroes of the pandemic remain vulnerable to scammers. To relieve them of some burden, there are some steps you can take to make life easier.

When ordering food or having an item delivered, opt to pay for the item first, whether through a bank transfer or cashless payment system. Many services allow their customers to do so. This leaves the rider with just the responsibility of delivering the goods. Granted, there's still a risk that the recipient may not receive the items. Yet companies like Grab and Lalamove have several safeguards in place to protect buyers in this unlikely event. It may be in the form of full reimbursement or credit with the service which you can then use to order more.

If you don't have means of electronic payment, offer the rider the opportunity to pick up the payment in cash from you first. This assures that there is no ill will intended and the rider no longer has to worry about covering the item from their own pocket.

For large or bulky items, consider an alternate form of delivery and payment. With more costly items comes greater risk. In many cases, a delivery rider may not be the best solution. Look into other services like those offered by services like LBC or transportify. These services specialize and larger and bulkier packages. Indeed it may take longer, but many of them offer tracking services that let you know what stage of delivery your package is at. As for payment, consider bank transfers or electronic payment when dealing with amounts larger than PhP2,000. Having this much in case can prove to be quite a temptation for many middlemen. Eliminate that temptation completely by giving it directly to the seller.

These are just a few steps on how we can make life easier for these partner-riders who have made life immeasurably more convenient, particularly under quarantine.