In China, hitchhiking platforms match passengers who need rides with drivers who are heading the same way, allowing both to cut travel expenses during commutes within a city or even longer journeys. The platforms then take cuts from the payments to the drivers.
It sounds like a good deal for everyone involved, so long as you’re willing to share a ride with a stranger.
There are palpable risks: Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing platform, suspended its hitchhiking business in August 2018 after two rape and murder cases. The company still hasn’t resumed its hitchhiking service.
Ant Financial-backed Hello Chuxing, which is an offshoot of bike-sharing brand Hellobike, saw the market void left by Didi and launched its own hitchhiking business in more than 300 cities across China in February.
Recently, a report by China’s state broadcaster CCTV has shown that Hello Chuxing’s hitchhiking platform has been used for fraud.
A man surnamed Wang living in Hangzhou, the provincial capital of East China’s Zhejiang, told CCTV that at around noon on July 25, he used Hello Chuxing to schedule a hitched ride for his parents, who were meant to board the vehicle at 7:00 a.m. the following morning. Wang said a woman called to say he should confirm that the passengers have already gotten on board so that the order could not be canceled.
About 12 hours later, Wang found that the order had already been “completed” even though a car never came for his parents, adding that he later called Hello Chuxing, only to be told that the money he prepaid for the ride had already been withdrawn from the supposed driver’s account.
The scam worked because of a loophole in Hello Chuxing’s system: Even if users don’t confirm in the app that they have arrived at their destination, the ride will be marked as “complete” ten hours after it was initiated and the driver will receive the fare.
Hello Chuxing’s public relations director, Wang Fan, told CCTV that his company “suspects” that fraud had taken place, adding that the company will compensate users who had been fleeced.
A total of 2,000 accounts on Hello Chuxing have been banned for conducting fraudulent activities, said Wang. He also indicated that the company has updated its platform to include a notice for passengers telling them to confirm that they are in a vehicle only if they are actually there. The app also added a function for postponed payments.
Wang said Hello Chuxing will report to the police after it has collected the relevant evidence.