With large swaths of the economy still shut down or operating at limited capacity due to the coronavirus, millions of workers are turning to gig economy apps like Instacart, Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, DoorDash, and others to help make ends meet. While these apps can be great for finding flexible job opportunities, their increasing popularity is attracting scammers looking to take advantage of gig workers and their customers.
We’re hearing about two types of gig economy scams.
Instacart premium job scam
Instacart is a service that connects consumers with workers (confusingly called “shoppers”) who are paid to do the shopping on their behalf for a fee, plus tips. Workers scan the app for jobs they’d like to do (called “batches”), claim them, then do the shopping. Bigger batches with more items are generally more expensive totals and, in theory, result in bigger tips for the shopper fulfilling them. This can make competition for attractive batches fierce for the thousands of shoppers who have flooded the app since the pandemic began.
Seeing an opportunity, scammers have begun advertising on social media and elsewhere that they can get shoppers access to premium jobs with big tips, in exchange for an upfront fee.
The complaint an Instacart shopper from Florida sent us is typical of these scams:
“I’m a shopper for Instacart trying to make some income during this pandemic when the economy has been turned upside down and many have lost their jobs and have turned to alternative jobs like food delivery, grocery shoppers, etc. As a result, there is a lot more competition to get orders in applications like Instacart,” she wrote. She saw a website promising better batches for higher pay to Instacart shoppers using the service, in exchange for a $200 upfront fee. “After payment communication on their side stopped and I requested a refund and all has been ignored,” she wrote. “I was robbed [of] $200.”
Tip: If someone promises to deliver you premium Instacart batches in exchange for a fee, that’s a red flag. At best, they’re violating Instacart’s terms of service. At worst, it’s a scam designed to rob you of your money.
Cash out account phishing leads to lost pay
Many gig economy apps offer their workers a service where their earnings can be cashed out and deposited into a bank account or prepaid debit card upon request. Scammers have tried to take advantage of this by calling gig economy workers posing as a representative of the app operator. The imposter asks the worker to click on a link in a text message or email that is sent to them (for reasons such as “verification” or “security”). The link then takes the worker to a legitimate-looking phishing website, where they are tricked into providing their login credentials.
Once the scammer gets that information, they can change the bank account that the worker’s pay goes to and cash out the worker’s earnings elsewhere. Recognizing this scam, gig economy apps like GrubHub and Doordash have instituted waiting periods when bank account information has been changed. However, this can still leave workers who don’t cash out often at risk of losing their hard-earned pay.
Tip: Gig economy apps will NEVER call or text you asking for your login credentials. If someone does so, it’s a scam. If two-factor authentication is available for the app you are using, turn it on. And if you think your account may have been compromised, report it immediately to the app’s support team.
If you suspect that you have become a victim, report it immediately. You can file a complaint at Fraud.org via our secure online complaint form. We’ll share your complaint with our network of law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can investigate and help put fraudsters behind bars.