A British couple were scammed by a rogue New York taxi gang who forced them to hand over $470 – for a TEN MINUTE journey.
Craig Nickels, 30, and his fiancee Ellie Austin, 24, were scared into handing over the cash to the two men who picked them up outside JFK.
Police are hunting who conned the pair into handing over passport details and their address before falsely claiming the massive sum was due to new city-wide tolls.
Shaken Craig, a Tesco worker, handed over the cash for fear of being attacked or robbed of the engagement ring he had in his suitcase to propose during the holidays.
The dad-of-two spoke out to warn other British tourists of the dangers of rogue taxi gangs and encourage holidaymakers to stick to yellow cabs.
Craig, from Derby, said: “I knew it was supposed to be 50 or 60 dollars but I started to get scared. There was two guys and I had no idea what they were going to do.
“He got my Mrs out of the cab but kept me in there.
“I was worried they’d drive off with the bags, or they had a weapon. I just thought that our health and safety was worth more than any money.
“He was going on and on about how his boss would get involved, and while he wasn’t physically forceful, he was trying to scare me.
“In the end he said he’d drop it to $470 and in the end I gave him it. I was shaken up and upset and scared.”
The pair saved up for months to afford the trip from Manchester Airport and were “exhausted” when they landed in New York earlier this month.
A man stood in the airport entrance offered them a cab to their hotel and Craig assumed it would go on the meter and cost $50.
The pair later released they should have been suspicious when he led them away to a private car park away from the taxi rank and into a minibus driven by a second man.
He asked them for the $20 for the parking fee – which they presumed would be taken off the bill – and told them they’d sort the fare “when we get there”.
The driver asked for Craig’s passport details, address and date of birth – and in hindsight he thinks this was to lull him into thinking he’d be tracked down.
“He started explaining to us that there were new toll fees for going between borough and over bridges,” recalled Craig.
“He then told me to take me to Manhattan it was going to be $900.
“Me and the Mrs couldn’t believe what we were hearing. I told him to pull over.
“We only had $900 total. I panicked. I had the engagement ring in the back in the bags.”
It was then they realised they had only travelled four miles and, when they explained the situation to subway staff, they were given a ticket to Manhattan for free.
The couple called police who took statements when they returned to the airport five days later.
Craig added: “The cops said they had heard of these people and they had heard of people losing their luggage when they drive off. They absolutely hustled us.”
Craig’s parents sent the couple £400 to get them through their holiday and he went on to propose to Ellie during the break, at the top of the Rockefeller Center.
“Obviously it was a brilliant holiday, but the scam did take the shine off it,” he said.
“The copper was honest with us and said we weren’t going to get our money back.
“They said you need to stick to the yellow cabs. Now we know that and just want to warn other people who might not know.”