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Uber and Lyft Cleaning Fee Scams: Beware Nauseating Vomit Fraud

There was a time when the only kind of vomit fraud you had to worry about involved plastic throw-up of the sort favored by practical jokesters.

With the advent of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft, however, the oh-so-charming term vomit fraud has come to refer to false claims filed against app users by drivers who report rider-generated messes that never happened. 

Consequently, customers get charged for cleanup—up to $150, depending on the alleged severity of the damage. In addition to getting fraudulently penalized for bogus barf, passengers could later discover unmerited fees for food and drink spills, tracking in mud, and leaving behind animal fur. 

How do Uber and Lyft cleaning fee scams work?

Uber and Lyft both have procedures that drivers can follow to request reimbursement when app customers trash vehicles—and that’s certainly fair. 

But it’s not hard to find tales of riders who were surprised to find hefty fines on their accounts as a result of drivers suspected of abusing the system—collecting the fees from accusing riders of nonexistent messes. 

Last summer, Lyft fined a man in Florida $80 for tossing his cookies during an 8-minute ride, even though footage captured via the passenger’s video doorbell camera at drop-off showed the man with no discernible signs of having spewed. 

Not long before that, a state worker in Albany, New York, said he was falsely charged $150 for upchucking during the short trip from the capitol building to the Amtrak station. 

“It is plain fraud,” the worker told Albany’s WTEN television station, “and also irrational that a state government employee who takes a seven-minute rideshare trip during expected work hours would vomit in the car and then jump on the train like nothing happened.”

When a cleaning fee is charged after a ride, an Uber or Lyft passenger should receive notification via email and in the app, along with an explanation and photos of the damage, as well as an updated receipt showing the extra charge and a way to dispute it. 

Some of the riders who say they were scammed managed to get their money back—the guy in Florida succeeded (after a series of back-and-forth emails and phone calls with three different customer service reps across 2 days), while the guy in New York failed in his appeal. 

But whatever the outcome, trying to prove you didn’t actually lose your lunch on the way to the airport is enough to make anybody sick. 

It’s a scam to watch out for whether you rely on Uber or Lyft to get around your home city or to explore the places you visit on vacation. 

Why do Lyft riders seem to be targeted most?

According to consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, the vomit scam seems to be a bigger problem for Lyft users than Uber customers at the moment. 

Though “Uber suffered a wave of vomit scams a few years ago,” Elliott points out at his website, “they faded in late 2018,” presumably because Uber began requiring drivers who file damage claims to submit, along with photos of the mess, a “receipt for the professional cleaning service” that restored the car’s interior, according to Uber’s online instructions for drivers.

“It’s much harder to fake a professional bill for cleaning,” Elliott writes. 

Lyft’s online instructions for drivers reporting messes make no mention of providing proof in the form of a receipt from a professional cleaning service, however. 

Frommer’s reached out to Lyft for more details about how claims of damage are investigated, and a Lyft spokesperson supplied this written statement:

“We take damage disputes very seriously. Lyft’s support team investigates each incident individually and makes a determination based on the evidence available, such as photos and statements from both the driver and rider.” 

How do I avoid Uber and Lyft vomit scams—or dispute fraudulent cleaning charges?

To avoid falling victim to vomit fraud, it helps to arm yourself with some evidence. 

Both Elliott and the Better Business Bureau recommend that Uber and Lyft passengers take photos of the car’s interior (seats, floors, and doors) before and after each ride

If that seems like a bit much, you might consider at least documenting anything awry when you get in the car—a ripped seat, spilled liquid sloshing around the floorboard—so you can argue the damage was done before you stepped inside.

To dispute a cleaning fee with Uber or Lyft, you can contact either app by responding to the fee notification or by contacting customer support teams at or Both services have “Help” options in their smartphone apps as well, under Lyft’s main menu and under Uber’s “Account” tab.

Additionally, Christopher Elliott’s website contains handy pages listing contact info for customer service managers at Lyft as well as Uber.  

When appealing charges in your correspondence with company reps, provide a clear and accurate account of the ride in question, attach any photographic evidence you have, and ask to see a copy of the damage report and cleaning bill

The more documentation you have, the more likely the company will regurgitate a refund. 

Related story: Lyft Is Charging Customers Extra Fees but Hiding How Much