SANTA BARBARA - In this exclusive NewsChannel 3 Investigation, we have to give credit where credit is due. The person who did the investigating in this case is the victim who called us for help after Uber charged her bogus fees.
On April 14, Jane smith and three friends took an Uber during a Friday night in downtown Santa Barbara. They said the driver was nice and they got home safe.
"On Monday, is when I looked at my bank statement and noticed the Uber, which was originally an $18 Uber, was actually $178," said Jane.
Jane, which is not her real name obviously, contacted Uber and discovered she was charged a $150 cleaning fee -- the most Uber charges. The driver claimed someone in Jane's group left bodily fluids, presumably vomit, in the car and he had to clean it up.
"I texted my girlfriends and asked, 'did someone throw up, was something wrong?' And they were like, 'No'," said Jane.
Jane contacted Uber again and asked for more details.
"They then sent me photos of what looked like chips or popcorn and it was perfectly situated on one of the seat cushions where one of my friends was sitting," said Jane. She also noticed a discrepancy in the drop off location and started to sense something wasn't right.
Jane asked Uber to send her the photos with time stamps to show when all of this supposedly happened. The driver claimed he dropped the women off at this gas station at Carrillo and Chapala at 12:34 a.m. But Jane said they were dropped off three blocks away about five minutes earlier. She approached the store manager, explained what was going on and he let her look at the security footage. In the video they saw his car pull up to the store.
"So when he pulled in, it matched the time stamp, it was 12:34 down to a T. No girls got out of the back seat," said Jane.
Jane said it proves they were not dropped off at the store. But, then the security video gets really interesting.
"And we actually caught him walking into the store, purchasing plantain chips, crunching them up and then putting them in his back seat," said Jane.
So, it wasn't vomit after all and it probably took the driver just 30 seconds to vacuum up the chips, yet he made an easy $150. We discovered Uber riders around the country have reported similar complaints.
"There's no way I could have done that without knowing it," said Steven Winkler.
Steven Winkler in Philadelphia was charged a $50 cleaning fee for a mess he didn't make. We found another couple who was charged an erroneous $150-dollar cleaning fee for their ride.
Jane told us she tried to present her evidence to the folks at Uber.
"They didn't really apologize. They didn't really acknowledge the fact that their driver had clearly done that. Granted, they probably thought, 'They are four drunk girls'," said Jane.
Uber refunded $40. But Jane said that wasn't good enough and she wanted to warn others, so she called NewsChannel 3 Investigates.
We contacted Uber and explained the evidence Jane uncovered. The company apparently looked into it further and decided to refund all of Jane's money. Uber also told us the driver in this case is no longer with Uber.
"It's unfortunate that people are doing that out there. But I think something good can come of it, that is, make it aware to everybody just to be cautious," said Jane.
Uber sent NewsChannel 3 this statement in response to our story:
Uber is always evaluating its customer service processes and looking for ways to better serve our riders and drivers. We recognize there are challenges for our support teams to look into these types of situations and so we are enhancing our internal processes and investing in additional resources when investigating cleaning fee claims.
While messes can happen in moving vehicles, we are actively looking into reports where fraud may be detected and will take the appropriate actions on those accounts.
In case you're wondering, we didn't identify the driver in this case because all we had was his first name and no way to get his side of the story.
We asked Uber to contact him for us and they refused. We also tried to get the security video from the gas station, but the manager declined to release it. He did however, allow Jane to take photos of the monitor as the video played and that is what we presented in this story.