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Scam Artists Prey On Travelers Waiting For Taxis At Penn Station

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Taxi and Limousine Commission issued a warning Friday night about a taxi scam at Penn Station.

As CBS2's Ilana Gold reported, thieves have been targeting people who are just trying to find a cab.

One victim, DeeDee Pichard, could not believe what happened at Penn Station Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm really angry," Pichard said.

Visiting from California, Pichard and her son had just gotten off the train and went outside, when a stranger walked up to them.

"I said to my son: 'Should we Uber? That will be the fastest,'" Pichard said. "(The stranger) said, 'Oh, you guys need transportation. Where are you going? I'll help you get to a cab quickly. Follow me.'"

Pichard said the stranger brought them down the block to avoid the long taxi line. She said he appeared to be legitimate, although he had no uniform, badge or identification.

"He had somebody who he was working with. He said, 'There's my guy,' and the guy was putting some other people in a cab," Pichard said. "And he says to us, 'You guys are next.'"

Pichard said the two men put her and her son in a cab, and then asked for $12. She handed over the cash, assuming it was a fixed fare.

But on the way to their Midtown hotel, she noticed the cab meter running.

"We say to the driver, 'That's a fixed fare, right?' And he said no. He said, 'You paid that guy?'" Pichard said.

She quickly figured out that the men had ripped her off.

Police said the scam has been a problem for years, and the TLC wants all visitors to be aware.

"There's hustlers inside a lot of transportation hubs, which try to prey on tourists," said TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi.

Joshi advised that if such a person approaches you at Penn Station, do not engage in a conversation – just walk away.

"There are dispatchers that are in uniform, and you can ask for identification, and they are the ones who guide you to cabs and for-hire vehicles," Joshi said.

TLC said to be safe, it is best to go directly to the taxi line. The agency also emphasized that fixed fares are only between John F. Kennedy International Airport and Manhattan, and passengers always pay the cab driver.

"I've just got to be much more aware and much suspicious," Pichard said. "I hate having to be that way."

Police said they are on the lookout for the suspicious activity associated with the scam, and anyone who is victimized should report it.

This story came to CBS2 through a tip. If you have a story you want us to investigate, call the CBS2 newsroom at (855) TWO-TIPS.

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