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'I don't know how I fell for this': How -2-

The manager of that Five Guys, Curtis Jones, told MarketWatch he's not sure who put the phone number up. Jones said the restaurant workers removed the phone number from the counter after a few DoorDash workers came back to say it was not really for DoorDash support, and that at least one delivery worker told them he fell for the scam and lost his earnings.

A few complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission in the past three years, which the agency noted are unconfirmed, describe similar instances of delivery workers finding a number to call when they arrived at certain restaurants to pick up customers' orders.

Of 271 FTC complaints MarketWatch obtained and examined, about 64% were by Uber Eats workers, 18% were by DoorDash workers, 16% were by Instacart workers and 2% were by Grubhub workers. The complaints came from all over the nation, with about 23% from California and 15% from New York.

Many of the complainants, whose names and identifying information were redacted, urged the FTC to act to hold the gig companies responsible, or to help the workers recoup their stolen earnings -- which some of them said totaled hundreds or thousands of dollars.

"[I'm] getting hopeless day by day, that's a lot of money which I tried to work to pay off my debt during this hard time," one person who claimed to be a DoorDash driver from Long Beach, Calif., said in an August 2020 complaint that detailed a loss of "$1,001.87, the amount I worked for the whole week."

Another complainant, who claimed to be an Uber Eats driver in Dallas, told of being called by a person impersonating Uber support and fooled into sharing personal information, including a Social Security number. The scammer "was able to get into my Uber Account and change my last name from [redacted] to [redacted] so that I won't be able to cash out any of my potential earnings since it doesn't match my banking details," the driver said in the complaint filed in August 2021. The driver added: "I have reported this to Uber, but please know that Uber has been VERY DIFFICULT with resolving this issue. They don't seem like they even want to help me with this."

The FTC would neither confirm nor deny any actions it is taking related to the complaints.

Uber, DoorDash, Instacart and Grubhub said they regularly warn workers -- when they sign up to work, by email, in their apps or in earnings statements -- about possible scams. That includes informing them that the companies do not call or text to ask delivery workers to share their personal information, they said. They urge workers to contact them via app, the companies' websites or by phone when they encounter suspicious issues or other problems. Spokespeople for Uber and Grubhub said the companies place holds on accounts that they suspect have been compromised.

The companies also said they have dedicated support teams to handle worker issues, including teams that focus on cases of fraud. None of the gig companies contacted by MarketWatch would disclose how many scammed workers they have reimbursed.

Gig workers fear deactivation from platforms

Elena Christina Menz, a shopper for Instacart in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, said she recently fell for a scam by someone who impersonated Instacart support.

She was juggling two different orders, known among Instacart workers as a "double batch." At the same time, Menz received a call from a man who told her there was a security issue with one of her customers. He asked her to log off her account, then uninstall and reinstall her app. When she logged back on, her account had been emptied.

"I'm the queen of watching for scams, and I don't know how I fell for this," Menz said. "They catch you in the process when you're just trying to get things done quickly."

Menz said she didn't try to get her money back because there was less than $25 in her account at the time. She was more worried about her shopper rating because having those two canceled orders counted against her.

"These gig jobs with the ratings -- they're very bad," Menz said. But with six kids and a husband who wasn't working due to a medical issue, plus a struggling cleaning business that has been decimated by the pandemic, she needed a source of income and was worried about being "fired."

According to an Instacart spokeswoman, if shoppers can prove they were deactivated for reasons beyond their control, their appeals will be approved and they will be reinstated.

The fear of deactivation was a common thread among the delivery workers contacted by MarketWatch.

A DoorDash delivery worker in San Francisco, who asked to be identified only as Dante, said he was scammed out of about $400 by someone he thought was a company support representative.

"With DoorDash, there's always a looming threat of deactivation," he said. "When it's your main source of income, you feel this pressure."

He said the scammer "was well-spoken" and sounded "highly irritated... It sounded like I was in trouble." Dante followed a link the scammer provided to what looked like an official DoorDash website, he said, which allowed the scammer to steal his login credentials.

When he contacted DoorDash support to report that money was missing from his account, he did not tell the company he surrendered his personal information to the scammer. He said he then got his money back "surprisingly" quickly, within a couple of days, but DoorDash told him it would only happen that one time.

A DoorDash spokesman said, "Dashers are ultimately responsible for protecting their own personal information and we maynot provide multiple payments if [it is] determined a Dasher has contributed to any loss or fraud."

Two delivery drivers for Uber Eats, who have yet to recover earnings that they claim were stolen as part of a phishing scam, recently posted about their experiences on Reddit, but did not want to share more details with MarketWatch. One said he was afraid of retaliation, such as getting deactivated. The other wrote back that all he wanted to say was, "tell Uber to fix their support team. They are absolutely useless."

'The algorithm is their manager'

Gig-work scholars said key aspects of the gig economy contribute to the persistence of the problem of workers losing their earnings.

Generally, delivery workers pull up an app on their phones, decide whether they want to accept an order and head to a restaurant or store. They sometimes communicate with the customer in app, or by phone or text, but do not usually have a lot of direct contact with other delivery workers.

Katie Wells, a postdoctoral research fellow at Georgetown University who studies the Washington, D.C., gig economy, said that because app-based workers are so "atomized" -- they're spread out and work apart from one another -- they are unlikely to have the chance to ask their peers about how to handle certain aspects of the job. They don't have supervisors to consult, either.

"They don't have a boss... the algorithm is their manager," she said. "That makes them more susceptible" to these types of scams.

Delivery workers being tricked or cheated out of their earnings is "another example of why it's a problem that there's no regulatory oversight of this workplace," Wells added.

Steward, of the Aspen Institute, agreed: "When workers run into any sort of problem, we have heard of many stories of them not being able to get a hold of anyone."

Because the gig companies have many different partners, delivery workers may also be confused about who's responsible for what.

There's also a lot of turnover in gig work. New delivery workers are signing on all the time and may or may not be paying attention to all the fine print that includes warnings about guarding their information.

Steward said employees -- but not gig workers -- usually get training and IT support.

"In my job, if there's anything suspicious, there's someone to call," she said. "These workers have none of that. They're absorbing all the risk."

-Levi Sumagaysay

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

07-30-22 1146ET

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