Nov 13, 2015 · 4 minutes

The Craigslist ad seemed too good to be true.

A brand new ridesharing company offering a guaranteed $20 an hour and -- get this! -- a free Prius! All you have to do is register online, confirm you’re not bankrupt and don’t have any major driving convictions, and you’re all set to start earning.

Guess what! It was too good to be true.

In fact, “Ridesharing Taxi Co” turns out to be an entirely fake company, designed to fool people into signing up for financing on a leased Prius. There’s no ridesharing job at the end of it, just a half-assed suggestion that you might use your shiny new Prius to drive on Uber or Lyft.

So far, so typically Internet scammy. But here’s the twist -- the scam is being orchestrated not by some shady car salesman but a legitimate, venture-backed startup: Breeze.

Backed by the likes of Mark Cuban, who has acted as the company's pitch man on television, Breeze was co-founded by Jeff Pang, Ned Ryan and Charlie Fang. According to LinkedIn, CEO Pang previously worked at Uber, Homejoy, and Goldman Sachs.

Breeze made headlines here on Pando last year when it emerged that the company had begun selling car leases without actually having any cars to lease. Shortly afterwards, Uber began to deactivate users who leased cars through Breeze, although they have apparently since relented.

But there’s no mention of Breeze for much of the “Ridesharing Taxi Co” sign up process, which starts out with a splash screen encouraging you to complete “three steps” to “get your car and your job” (Note the completely fraudulent use of the Pando logo to suggest we’ve previously written about the completely fake company. Although I guess we have now.)

Only after they’ve given the company a slew of personal details and confirmed their eligibility are applicants hit with the hard sell, in the form of an email from Breeze which describes itself as a “partner organization” to “Ridesharing Taxi Co”:

Thank you for your interest in Ridesharing Taxi. We wanted to let you know about another great opportunity with Breeze-- a partner organization-- that can get you behind the wheel of your very own Prius.

What is Breeze?

A Breeze Membership gives you the tools you need to make the most money possible driving for services like Lyft, Uber, and Postmates.

For a small membership fee, Breeze provides motivated individuals with flexible access to hybrid vehicles, with the option to return their vehicle with just two weeks’ notice. Members can earn over $1,000 a week after making weekly payments, and membership includes maintenance and direct access to our Member Success team...

“Another great opportunity”! More like a sleazy bait and switch designed to lure drivers with the promise of a new car and a decently paying sharing economy job in the hope they’ll sign up for a car lease.

One potential applicant, who originally tipped me off to the scam and talked to Pando on request of anonymity, challenged a Breeze customer service rep, suggesting the company appeared to be violating the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA).

The following unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices undertaken by any person in a transaction intended to result or which results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer are unlawful...
  • (2) Misrepresenting the source, sponsorship, approval, or certification of goods or services.
  • (3) Misrepresenting the affiliation, connection, or association with, or certification by, another...
  • (5) Representing that goods or services have sponsorship, approval, characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits, or quantities which they do not have or that a person has a sponsorship, approval, status, affiliation, or connection which he or she does not have...
  • (9) Advertising goods or services with intent not to sell them as advertised.

To Breeze’s uh… credit, they didn’t even try to deny the scam. Here’s the chat transcript...

Customer: Breeze as I understand it does not offer employment but rather leasing of cars for those who wish to drive for Uber et. al. 

Breeze Rep: You have hit the nail on the head. 

Customer: I am personally not interested in Breeze, but this sort of behavior sickens me.

Breeze Rep: I will definitely pass the feedback on. 

I contacted Breeze yesterday afternoon to ask for comment on the bait-and-switch, and also to ask about their use of Pando’s logo to help orchestrate it (which is also an apparent violation of the CLRA, not to mention a deeply shitty thing to do.)

A short while later, I received this statement from Communications Manager, David Pemberton:

Breeze has connected thousands of drivers to jobs by providing vehicles and coaching so they can earn a living driving for ridesharing companies. To that end, we run many marketing experiments to reach job seekers. 
In regards to the PandoDaily logo, it has been removed. 
Let me know if you have any other questions.

I responded to ask if Breeze was at all concerned that its “marketing experiment” appeared to violate California law, but Pemberton hasn’t responded. 

Apparenly Breeze is concerned. Some time early this morning, the company took down its Ridesharing Taxi Co site -- although the company’s fake Craigslist ads appear still to be live. [Update: The Craigslist ads have also now been taken down.]

I’ve asked the company how many users signed up while the scam was active and if they intend to delete any data acquired under false pretenses. As yet, I've received no response. A call to the company’s customer service phone number was redirected to voicemail.