Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

How to Scam a Free Ride on Lyft

This actually happened to me as a driver this past summer. It’s pretty brilliant, yet evil, that someone figured out how to hack the system. I’ll tell you exactly how it’s done.

In case you didn’t get it, I was being sarcastic. Please don’t scam your Lyft driver.

Step 1: Request a multi stop ride

Did you know that you can request multi-stop rides on Lyft? It’s actually pretty easy to do. Set a pickup location, set a destination to stop #1, and then set another destination to stop #2.

I actually get multi stop rides fairly often. Usually they are to locations with names like Green Theory, Higher Leaf, Evergreen Market, where the customer makes a quick pickup and goes back home to, shall we say, relax. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, you will when you get older.

On May 3, I had a pickup from 4227 West Lake Sammamish to the 7–11 in Redmond off of 51st, then to an office building near by. This guy has over 100 rides and a 5.0 star record. Everything seems perfectly normal.

Step 2: Request driver to stop “near” destination #1

Although the 7–11 had a parking lot, the passenger asked me to park at the office building labelled Aerotek nearby. This is a bit unusual, but critical to pulling off the scam.

Note that from the Aerotek location, I don’t have a clear view of the 7–11, especially since I parked facing away from the 7–11. A line of trees divide the two parking lots, blocking most of the view.

Step 3: Ignore all contact by the driver

After dropping off the rider, I swipe the Lyft app to mark leg one as completed. I am now waiting for the passenger to return before starting the second leg of the drive. Technically I’m not in “drive” mode. Again, this is critical to pulling off the scam.

I wait 10 minutes. I wonder what this passenger could be doing. Usually stops at 7–11 doesn’t take that long. I assume he’s stopping for some drinks, snacks, or a lottery ticket, which should be a pretty quick stop.

From the Lyft app, I message him multiple times, asking if he was ready or needed more time. No response. I periodically check my mirrors, but the trees pretty much block all lines of sight.

I wait another 10 minutes, and this time I use the Lyft app to call him. No response, I leave a message.

Step 4: The Prestige of the Scam

At this point I’ve waited 20 minutes, and there’s no response at all from the passenger. On the Lyft app, I have two options: Continue to destination #2 or Cancel the ride. What do you think is the right choice for the driver?

To a frustrated driver, the correct choice seems to be “cancel the ride”, but since they are technically not driving, it means that it’s the driver’s choice to cancel, instead of cancelling due to the passenger. When a driver cancels the ride outside of driving mode, no fee is charged for the ride!

Why is that? Consider I pull up to your pickup location, and before you get in the car, I cancel the ride. You shouldn’t have to pay, right? This clever scammer figured out that this can be applied to multi stop rides as well. Brilliant.

Since technically I cancelled the ride, the ride is marked as incomplete. For an incomplete ride, the driver is not allowed to give star feedback. That’s right, I can’t give the rider a bad 1-star feedback in the app. This is how this particular rider has kept a 5.0 rating all this time.

What the driver should have done

Obviously I was steamed, both at the rider who pulled a fast one on me, and also for Lyft to design a system that was vulnerable to this scam.

When I contacted Lyft support, they explained that I should have continued the drive to destination #2, then cancel the ride, and then the active ride would be a billable cancellation to the passenger, and I would also be able to rate them negatively in the app.

While the support team is technically correct, this does nothing to keep other drivers vulnerable to scams like this. At a minimum, I was able to file a 1-star rating for this rider via the support team. Not all drivers have the patience to do the same.

So there you have it. To summarize, the way to scam a free ride on Lyft is:

  1. Book a multi stop ride
  2. Stop somewhere with an obstructed view of destination #1
  3. Ignore all contact by the driver
  4. Let the driver makes the mistake of cancelling the ride

Obviously, don’t do this to scam your next Lyft or Uber ride. The drivers are trying to earn an honest paycheck. To the folks at Lyft, if you are reading this, consider this a bug report with repro steps.



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William Wen

William Wen

25 years in tech | 13 years @ Google | 9+ years Tesla Investor | |