Wednesday, February 25, 2004

When you visit Vegas, wear the pants with the deep pockets

The Review-Journal's intrepid Mike Kalil uncovers another Vegas scam: the long-haul cabbie. Last year, the local Taxicab Authority cited drivers taking riders on circuitous routes that boosted their fares on 174 occasions. While that's a miniscule proportion of the 23 million taxi rides offered last year, the number of long-hauls is much, much higher, because the citations reflect only the cases in which officers observed the practice, or riders were savvy enough to figure out they were being ripped off, and filed successful complaints. (Although as the story notes, cabbies who think their passengers are onto the plot are known to kick their customers out onto the streets.) Officials concede that cabbies are illegally taking in millions in extra fares from long-hauling.

The most typical scheme is called "tunneling," when cabbies leaving McCarran International Airport take their Strip-bound patrons to their hotels via the airport tunnel and then I-15, rather than on surface streets ... a much-closer route. This little ploy adds from $3 to $10 to the fare. Interestingly enough, a driver has to be cited five times in 12 months to lose his license ... and not one was revoked for that reason last year. Mike witnessed a driver being cited for tunneling as he reported the story:

In the six minutes it took to write (driver) Glavas' ticket, another five cabs passed by the officers on their way into the tunnel but were not pulled over.
"Those are all long-hauls, I guarantee it," said Roger Armstrong, a senior investigator with the authority who was observing the passing taxis. "We can only write tickets so fast."
After Glavas departed with a handshake and a smile for the officers, it was less than one minute before they flagged down another cab headed into the tunnel.
"Like shooting fish in a barrel," investigator Rick Jones added. "It's an epidemic."

How can you protect yourself from the scam? Other than being familiar with the routes and the terrain, not a lot. Read it here.

In a first-person sidebar to the story, Kalil also confirmed a widely circulated rumor about other "services" cabbies offer tourists -- access to hookers. Mike posed as a tourist and took six round-trip cab rides between the airport and the Strip. On two of the trips from McCarran, he was long-hauled; but:

Just as noteworthy, three of those 12 cabbies plied me with business card-size flyers featuring naked or half-naked "entertainers" on them, along with a phone number. The cabbies encouraged me to call, informing me that the companies' dancing, escort service or other unspecified service was just code for prostitution.

There's no way to know how widespread this sales pitch has become.

"I'd say we get one complaint every six months," said (Yvette) Moore, the authority administrator. "But then again, a tourist who takes them up on it isn't necessarily going to call and complain if they're dissatisfied with the result."

So long as what happens here, stays here ...

Speaking of con artists ...

Today's Review-Journal reports on a scary scam orchestrated by a crooked real-estate salesman (OK, insert joke here) who's using a loosey-goosey interpretation of "adverse possession" law to seize what he considers unoccupied homes and then "rent" or "sell" them to unsuspecting parties. The guy fesses up to doing what IMHO constitutes theft, saying only he's "pushed the envelope" on adverse possession. Here's what's frightening: The cops can't really do anything about this.

"Unfortunately, interpretations of court rulings and some other things have not allowed us to go forward," (fraud Detective Pete) Dustin said. "There's nothing we could have done with the statutes we have to work with."

Several folks in our neighborhood use their houses as rental properties or reside here only part of the year. Makes me wonder if this guy has set up any of his "clients" in my hood.