Fake Taxi: Consumers Concerned by Chicago Officials’ Inaction | chicago news

(DePaul Center for Journalistic Integrity and Excellence)(DePaul Center for Journalistic Integrity and Excellence)

Terry Kalil, a Minnesota resident and frequent traveler, came to Chicago for a short vacation in 2022 and, like so many tourists, landed in Union Station.

“I didn’t take a foot, a step, in one direction or the other and a man accosted me and asked if I needed a taxi,” he said.

Needing a ride to her hotel near Michigan Avenue, Kalil agreed.

She said the taxi ride to her hotel was less than 10 minutes. However, during dinner that night, an alert from her bank notified him of a charge of $248.

“My stomach turned over,” Kalil said. “I left the restaurant, called my bank and said, ‘No, no, this is not correct,’ so they suspended it.”

Kalil’s experience is not unique to those traveling in Chicago.

The city of Chicago issued a warning in February urging people to be aware of illegal taxis heading to populated areas and large events. The warnings directed consumers to dial the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) line 311 to file complaints.

Email records provided by the city through a public records request show that Kalil phoned to file a complaint at 10:14 p.m. the night of his trip. Six weeks later, the BACP informed her that he had decided not to continue investigating her case.

“I sent them all the information that I sent to the city and then I got a response from the city, ‘there is not enough information to proceed,’” Kalil said.

Kalil’s complaint included his bank statement with the driver’s full name, listed as Khalid Mahmood, his hometown of Orland Park, and the amount he was billed.

The city’s apparent inaction called into question how BACP handles other consumer protection-related cases in Chicago. DePaul’s Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence (CJIE) filed a public records request with the BACP and discovered eight other complaints involving a driver named Khalid Mahmood reported in just one year, from April 2022-23. .

The reports yielded detailed overcharge amounts, car descriptions, incident locations, and some even included license plate numbers. Five of the reported incidents, like the one at Kalil, occurred in close proximity to Union Station.

Investigating Kalil’s case further, CJIE visited the Orland Park address related to his overcharging complaint. A resident named Khalid Mahmood who lives at that address denied any involvement in any wrongdoing, but in the garage behind his condo was a black Toyota Camry with one of the license plate numbers, S657135, reported in the complaints.

Of the 2,868 filed taxi complaints received by the City’s BACP between April 2022 and 2023, there were 675 payment issues, 916 reckless/unsafe driving complaints, and 1,208 driver conduct issues.

Joe Schwieterman, a nationally recognized transportation authority and professor at DePaul University’s School of Public Service, believes a “big crackdown” may be necessary, “because people are getting pretty brash right now.”

He believes that the lack of consequences for unauthorized drivers also plays a role in this problem.

“Impersonating a taxi driver is a lower-level crime, so people don’t feel that sense of fear,” Schwieterman said. “You turn on your yellow light and suddenly people think you are a taxi. It can be done with just a few dollars spent.”

Those posing as licensed drivers can easily order counterfeit rideshare stickers or magnetic taxi tags online and place them on their car. Other tactics include claiming that their payment system is not working properly so the ride needs to be charged to third-party payment platforms.

“It’s the oldest trick in the book to say, ‘Oh, the meter’s down,’ or, ‘Turns out I lost your reservation, you’ll have to do it manually,’” Schwieterman said. “And all of a sudden, they are demanding cash or demanding a lot of money. We’ve all seen that in taxis years ago, but now we’re seeing that you can bill people for a couple hundred dollars.”

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd District) has spent nearly a decade fighting for stricter regulations for taxis and rideshares in the city.

When told about Kalil’s case, Waguespack said: “BACP could take that (complaint), and should take that complaint, actively pursue it to the point where if criminal charges were to be filed with the state’s attorney, then they should deliver. as a complete file and say: ‘This is what we found.’”

Like every other Chicago tourist, Kalil says his trip had many highlights: memorable dinners in the city, a visit to the Art Institute, a stop at Wrigley Field.

“A bad experience, as we all know, you tell 100 people, I have told well over 100 people,” he said. He firmly stated that he has no plans to return to the city where he was once overcharged.

Note: This article will be updated with video.