BlaBlaCar: from a means of trip search to a means of theft?

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tatarstan detained several suspects in the theft of funds from customers' cards with the help of the well-known international carpooling service

BlaBlaCar: from a means of trip search to a means of theft?

Money ruined BlaBlaCar in Russia: popular and quite reliable from the point of view of passengers international free service turned into a field of ample opportunities for those who want to get into someone else's pocket after it introduced a fee for booking trips for passengers. Citizens who do not want to be deceived have created an alternative for it in social networks — much less convenient, but with minimal risk to pay for the trip and not go anywhere. Realnoe Vremya — about failed trips, fake drivers and an alternative to the service.

In July, a resident of Yaroslavl, Irina A., who for several years regularly travelled to Kazan to visit friends with drivers whom she found using BlaBlaCar, faced a problem: the search of the service initially gave zero trips, and half an hour later, when she re-entered the request, offered many for several days at once. It already seemed suspicious to her. The fact that the cost of trips looked incredibly low, and drivers registered for the service in July 2022 — as they say, yesterday, added doubts. At the same time, she could book a trip and get the driver's contacts only after paying a service fee of 300 rubles.

The money is small, but after weighing all the pros and cons, the woman decided not to risk them. She took the bus, which had as many as three disadvantages: it goes only twice a week, the fare is more expensive than a passing car, it takes 16, not 10-12 hours to get on the road, and all this time she had to sit in a not very comfortable seat.

A week later, the traveller needed to go back and again tried to find an option on BlaBlaCar. The story repeated itself: at first there were no offers from drivers at all, after a short time there were unrealistically many of them, the prices frightened by availability, and the drivers — by the lack of experience of cooperation with the service, all of them had been registered quite recently.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Tatarstan told Realnoe Vremya that there is an increase in crimes related to the use of BlaBlaCar service in the republic.

There are no separate statistics on them, since they are all registered as frauds committed under the pretext of providing any service (from transportation to sex services).

“Services accounted for 11,9 percent of all remote frauds committed in the republic in 2021, over the past period of 2022, this figure increased to 15,7 percent," the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Tatarstan reported. “These indicators also take into account the share of crimes using the BlaBlaCar service.

As law enforcement officers told Realnoe Vremya, in August 2021, a 57-year-old resident of Bugulma, trying to book a trip home from a neighbouring region on BlaBlaCar, entered into correspondence with the author of the ad, followed the link sent by the “driver”, entered confidential data of his bank card on a phishing site, after which he received a notification about debiting 14 thousand rubles from his account. At the same time, 23-year-old woman from Bugulma lost 10 thousand in the same way. At the beginning of November 2021, a 38-year-old resident of Bugulma suffered in a similar way — her “driver” offered to pay 100 rubles for “booking” and wrote off 9 thousand from her card. At the end of November, a 45-year-old resident of Nizhnekamsk lost 11,5 thousand rubles under the same circumstances.

Criminal cases have been initiated on all these facts, an investigation is underway and, according to the representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the first results are already available:

Customers go to social networks

More cautious customers leave BlaBlaCar before they lose large sums — it is enough for them that after paying for a reservation on the BlaBlaCar website, they do not receive the service.

“I used to use BlaBlaCar to find passing cars to Nizhnekamsk, Bogatye Saby," says Alfiya A. “Now it is difficult to find a real car. I found it a couple of times, but recently I've paid a service fee, but the car did not come, and I decided to refuse the services of this service. Now I find passing cars in social networks in groups of fellow travellers — it's free and much more reliable, although it's probably not safe either. After all, BlaBlaCar does not provide security either. So with all the other advantages, there is only one disadvantage: it is not as convenient to search for fellow travellers in social networks as on a specialised site — now you have to study a large amount of information.

“Why do I have to pay a third of the cost of the trip?"

On the Internet, BlaBlaCar was previously reviewed mostly positively, but in the last two years negative reviews have prevailed. They write about what is described above — that the site has been occupied by scammers. BlaBlaCar formally warns users about this danger: it does not recommend following the links sent by drivers, advises paying the commission only on the service's website, and so on. But in reality, the users of the service are absolutely not protected. .

A year ago on, a user nicknamed Natali Luck has published a detailed report on her attempts to draw the attention of the BlaBlaCar team to the fraudulent actions of citizens unknown to her. She was outraged by the responses of the service representatives, who stated that they were “ready to do everything possible to help her get the money back," but in fact did nothing, and recommended “immediately contact the police and the bank to report a fraudulent transaction”.

Natali Luck pointed out another important detail: scammers try their best to persuade the “client” to make at least a penny transaction on a phishing site in order to get his card details and withdraw larger amounts from it as a result. The fact that it is not difficult for these people to get the phone of the “client” suggests that it is dangerous to pay the service fee even on the original service website — well, how will the card data leak following the cell phone number? She also pointed out the unclear conditions and the lack of a full guarantee of a refund of the service fee if the driver cancels a trip.

It is worth adding to this that the amount of the service fee is not reported in advance. “The amount of payment is calculated based on the price that the driver sets for his trip," BlaBlaCar says on the website, but does not give a clear calculation. On the review sites, users claim that it reaches up to a third of the cost of the trip.

The wrong ones motivated

Founded in 2006 by French Frederic Mazzella, BlaBlaCar, an international online carpooling service, came to Russia in 2014. Five years later, according to the service's website, Russia has become the largest of the 22 markets for BlaBlaCar, it has displaced almost all competitors from the local market, including large ones — Beepcar and Boombilla.

For a long time, the services for “docking” drivers and passengers were free, and representatives of the company reported that the introduction of a service fee in Russia is not planned, but in December 2020, BlaBlaCar Marketing Director in Russia Mikhail Dobrov told reporters that to book a trip, users would have to pay a service fee, the amount of which will depend on the length of the route and the number of reserved seats.

Dobrov then stated: “It is important for us to maintain a highly competitive position on price, because a very important motivation for our users is the opportunity to save on a trip.” But so far, apparently, the service has managed to motivate only scammers.

Realnoe Vremya contacted the service's employees via two publicly available communication channels — the service's email address and the personal email of BlaBlaCar's marketing director in Russia, Mikhail Dobrov.

We asked why the service fee, which made fraud of this kind attractive, is charged to the passenger, not to the driver; how the amount of the service fee is calculated; how often passengers receive complaints about the actions of fraudsters and what measures are taken on them, what travel guarantees BlaBlaCar provides to the passenger who paid the service fee. We also asked to provide statistics to track how the number of drivers and the number of passengers booking trips on the company's website has changed compared to the period when the service fee was not charged.

We have not received any response, the service does not have a phone number or a chat that would allow us to clarify whether our request has reached — this is stated on its official website. If the service provides comments, they will be published.

Inna Serova

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