Toronto

Police warn 'scoopers,' or unlicensed taxis, preying on weary travellers at Pearson

Toronto teacher Megan Schroeder says she was seconds away from putting her bags in the back of what she thought was an legitimate airport taxi, only to have police stop her at the last second.

Peel Regional Police say some unscrupulous drivers aiming to steal belongings

Megan Schroeder said she almost got into an illegal taxi at the airport, and now she wants to warn other travellers. (Ieva Lucs/CBC)

Toronto teacher Megan Schroeder says she was seconds away from putting her bags in the back of what she thought was an legitimate airport taxi, only to have police stop her.

"This is an illegal taxi, they were going to steal your stuff," she remembers the officer telling her.

The unlicensed taxis, or "scoopers" as police call them, are an issue at most large airports according to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA).

Schroeder told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that she'd just touched down at Pearson in the early hours, after a week away in Orlando for March Break. She said she was tired and just wanted to get home when she was approached by a dispatcher dressed like a limo driver, in a long coat and suit who offered to walk her to a vehicle.

By the time Schroeder got up to what looked like a Lincoln Town Car — far away from the taxi stand at this point — she was nervous.

"I was thinking, 'How do I get out of this situation?'" she said.

At that point she saw a police car drive up to the cab, and when she looked back to where the dispatcher was standing, he was gone.

The GTAA says the only vehicles authorised to pick up fares from Pearson airport 'will pick up from the designated pick up area on the terminal curbs.' (Greater Toronto Airports Authority)

"Because the safety of our passengers is Toronto Pearson's first priority, we engage private security and public education to protect against unlicensed taxis," the GTAA said in a statement. 

"Passengers should look for signage throughout the terminals to identify the verified taxi and limo stand areas."

According to the GTAA's website, the "only vehicles authorised to pick up fares" from the airport: 

  • Will pick up from the designated pick up area on the terminal curbs, arrivals level
  • Will have a GTAA number plate on the bumper and decal on the window
  • Will have flat rate fare information in the vehicle
  • Will not pick up in the terminal or parking garages

'A daily occurrence,' police say

"This is a daily occurrence," said Const. Bally Saini, a spokesperson for Peel Regional Police.

Saini says there are several issues to worry about. One, is that the driver may not have the proper insurance to cover the passenger if they get into an accident. The second, and more serious risk, is that the driver may attempt to steal luggage.

"When you're getting into an unlicensed vehicle you are putting yourself at risk," she said.

Schroeder says she was struck by how much of the experience "seemed right" at the time. 

"I allowed myself to be vulnerable and naive that this kind of thing wasn't happening in my city," Schroeder said.

Police will hand out trespass notices

The GTAA hires a private security company which takes the lead on trying to eliminate the problem of illegal taxis at Pearson, but police work alongside them and will hand out trespass notices, said Saini.

"It sounded like [Schroeder's] spidey senses kicked in," Saini said. "And it's tough when you're in that situation in the middle of the night, it's unfortunate, but luckily the officer was there to assist her."

Although she said she was embarrassed for falling for the scam, Schroeder wants as many people to hear her story as possible.

"I didn't know, there's got to be other people out there who didn't know," she said.

About the Author

Ieva Lucs

Web and radio reporter

Ieva Lucs is a web and radio reporter for CBC Toronto. She is drawn to offbeat and untold stories. Email: ieva.lucs@cbc.ca

With files from Metro Morning