In Singapore, drivers use GPS spoofing, fake apps to defraud Grab

In Singapore, drivers use GPS spoofing, fake apps to defraud Grab. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
In Singapore, drivers use GPS spoofing, fake apps to defraud Grab. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

SINGAPORE, May 18 — Some drivers have been using spoof global position system (GPS) tools to try to defraud Grab, the ride-hailing firm said at a media briefing yesterday (May 17).

Such drivers would use spoof GPS tools to pretend they are in a particular location, such as a shopping mall, so they can secure a ride ahead of drivers who are actually at the location.

Grab said that this is among the three major forms of fraud involved. The others are:

  • Drivers setting up multiple phones and multiple accounts to artificially reach benchmarks to earn performance incentives
  • Dodgy drivers getting hold of fake Grab apps to enable them to make unlimited cancellations of rides they do not want, without penalty

The company outlined these areas of fraud as it detailed the various ways in which it is helping drivers to protect their earnings, and improving the experience of users.

This media briefing came on the heels of a recent case of payment fraud on Grabhitch, involving losses of S$41,000 (RM124,314) and the arrest of 10 suspects.

Grab was asked about the case, but a spokesperson at the briefing said that the company could not comment as the case is before the courts.

The more common cases of fraud faced by Grab stem from drivers, rather than passengers, Mr Foo Wui Ngiap, head of trust, identity, safety and infosecurity at Grab, told TODAY.

More money is at stake for the drivers, whereas customers looking to cheat the system would tend to focus on getting yet another promotional code — which is not scalable, he added.

GPS Spoofing

Some drivers may use fake GPS tools and “rooted” mobile phones, which feature unconventional software allowing them to change their position arbitrarily without actually moving, to simulate driving behaviour and complete rides in order to game the system.

In some cases, drivers may use such apps to plant their location in the middle of a shopping mall when they are actually far away.

Passengers are then allocated to fraudulent drivers given their apparent proximity and experience longer waiting times, while honest drivers physically waiting in the area lose out.

“This has a cascading impact on how they mess up the ecosystem for everybody else. The customers will be angry and say that Grab does not know how to allocate rides. The honest driver is not earning money. And the fraudulent driver is collecting money and getting away with it,” Mr Foo said.

Fake Apps

The company has also seen its app being reverse-engineered and tampered with. These non-sanctioned apps are obtained outside the official Google play store or Apple app store.

Driver use these fake apps to utilise features such as unlimited cancellations of passengers that they have been allocated but prefer not to fetch, without any penalties.

Incentive Abuse

Bonus payouts from hitting incentive benchmarks, pegged to completing a certain number of rides, are also a prime target for fraudsters.

This involves the setting up of multiple phones and multiple accounts, and pretending to complete many rides with payment made in cash.

“At some point, even money flows are finite. If the company is giving out all their money to bad drivers, there will eventually be a trickle down — where other (honest) drivers will earn less,” Mr Foo added.

The Fight Against Fraud

Fraudulent schemes such as these result in a loss of user trust, a decrease in the earnings of honest drivers, lost revenue for the company and the compromising of the system’s integrity.

Grab is focused on building mechanisms to prevent such frauds from occurring in the first place, Mr Foo said. For instance, the company has implemented a “selfie-verification” feature, where drivers have to periodically take and upload a selfie to authenticate their account.

Drivers who were detected to have used GPS spoofing tools are banned, Mr Foo said, although he noted that this has also created a black market where banned drivers buy verified accounts of others to plug back into the system.

Grab has set internal benchmarks to keep its fraud rate under 1 per cent of gross merchandise value across all markets — and the fraud rate in Singapore is already below this number.

The company will also be increasing the headcount of its anti-fraud team from 120 to 200 by the end of the year, Mr Foo added.

Features to Boost Drivers’ Earnings

At the briefing, Grab also spoke about other features that it has rolled out to boost drivers’ earnings, such as tipping.

The feature, which was introduced in February, generated around S$20,000 worth of tips to drivers during the first and second day of Chinese New Year alone, Mr Yee Wee Tang, head of Grab Singapore, said.

The company also launched an automatic ERP calculator in January, which has since reduced customer service queries or tickets relating to ERP issues by 70 per cent, Mr Yee added.

Grab drivers had previously told TODAY that upset and unreasonable passengers who refuse to pay ERP charges are common.

Looking ahead, the company will be revamping its app for drivers and introduce features such as GrabAds — which allows drivers to earn up to an additional S$250 per month by using their car as a mobile billboard or through in-car engagements.

‘We want our driver-partners to know that we have their backs,” Mr Yee said. — TODAY

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