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The Almaty airport taxi scammers are on the defensive, but need to be knocked out

31 july 2011, 22:53
3

One of the rewards of being a journalist is that you can make a difference in people’s lives.

 

It doesn’t happen all the time, and sometimes the victories are small – but they’re victories nonetheless.

I’m convinced that a recent blog I did for Tengrinews.kz English about taxi scammers at Almaty International Airport has the scammers on the run. They’re still at the airport, but they’ve had to change their tactics.

When I arrived at the airport in May, I found two attractive women in their early 20s in the baggage-carousel area yelling “taxi” and waving signs in English saying “taxi.” Clearly their target was arriving foreigners who could be easily cheated.

The women were not supposed to be in the baggage area. In fact, their presence was a security violation – whether at Almaty International or any other airport in the world.

I was tired after arriving at night, however, and I asked one of the women to show me to a taxi.

I was surprised when they took me to a cabbie who was inside the baggage-carousel area – also a violation of airport security rules.

What followed was a taxi experience from hell. If you haven’t read the blog that Tengrinews.kz English posted on May 31 about my experience, you might check it out.

Here’s a summary:

The cabbie tried to charge me 10,000 tenge for a 1,500-tenge ride to the center of Almaty, even though I had told him at the airport that I would pay only 1,500.

He refused to open the trunk of his car and give me my bags until I gave him 10,000 tenge – an extortion attempt that I refused to succumb to.

The only thing that prevented me from having to give in to the extortion was the arrival of my Russian-speaking friend Zhenya. She solved the problem by speaking on a mobile phone with the taxi driver’s “dispatcher.”

It was obvious the dispatcher was also part of the scam. I assumed I was raising so much hell about the cabbie’s attempt to cheat me that the dispatcher decided to accommodate me out of fear that I would cause too much trouble for the scammers.

In the blog I wrote about my unhappy experience, I appealed to Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yessimov to clean up the scamming problem, which was giving the airport, the City of Almaty and Kazakhstan a black eye with foreigners.

When I flew in to Almaty again on business in mid-July, I was anxious to see whether my blog had had any effect on the scamming operation. It had.

The two cutesy women, dressed in pink T-shirts, were still inside the baggage-carousel area looking for victims but they were not waving “Taxi” signs and they were being very cautious when approaching arriving foreign passengers.

And the cabbies who were part of the scam were no longer inside the baggage area.

I was angry that the women continued to violate security rules by being inside the baggage area, however, so I walked up to a security guard, pointed to one of the women and began saying in a loud voice: “Bolshoi problem!” And then I told the guard in English that the women’s presence was a security violation. I said “bolshoi” problem and “security problem” over and over.

I have a loud voice when I’m vexed, and my decibel level unnerved the woman, who walked briskly through the exit door to the area where passengers’ family and friends were waiting.

She made a hard left turn after leaving the baggage area and walked up to three cabbies waiting just outside the felt rope that separated the arriving plane passengers from the crowd. I recognized one of the three cabbies she approached as the nasty one I’d had the confrontation with a few weeks before.

I began telling the woman – still in a loud voice – that she was part of an operation that was cheating people. One of the cabbies, who knew what I was upset about, said with an edge in his voice: “Mister, please.” The tone was a warning: Back off.

Sorry, pal. I’m not going to back off.

It’s obvious the scammers are on the run. They are being much more discreet in targeting foreigners inside the baggage area. And the cabbies that are part of the scam are now outside the baggage area, not inside.

But the scam continues. It’s obvious that what’s happening now is the young women are leading their victims to the cabbies behind the felt rope.

So I would appeal again to you, Mayor Yessimov, please shut down this gang of bandits. Because make no mistake about it, cabbies who charge foreigners six or seven times the going rate for a trip into the city are bandits – there’s no other word to describe them.

Those of you who are reading this blog can help with this campaign. One of the beauties of the Internet is it’s interactive. If any of you foreigner readers have been victims of the Almaty airport taxi scammers, please write to me about it. The more evidence there is to show there’s a problem, the more chance to solve the problem.

I’d also like to ask Kazakh readers for help. Let me know which officials I can write to address this problem.

If we work together, maybe we can end the Almaty airport taxi scam once and for all.


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