Imposters posing as Uber cab drivers have reportedly attempted to pick up female students this year at three different colleges across the country.
A recent Meltwater press release stated that drivers not affiliated with the rideshare company had attempted to abduct or physically harass students at Tallahassee Community College in Florida, Texas Christian University in Texas and Simmons College in Massachusetts.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat (Florida), 35-year-old Antonio D. Warren was arrested on Aug. 30 after attempting to kidnap a 19-year-old female student.
David Perry, chief of the Florida State University Police Department, said the woman entered the vehicle after Warren claimed to be an Uber driver.
Perry said in a press conference that Warren took the student to “locations along the way, almost going out of the way of going straight to the final destination.”
Court records obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat said the driver made stops at an apartment complex and a gas station, before he exposed himself and demanded sexual favors.
As of Sept. 1, Warren was charged with kidnapping with intent to commit a felony and was being held at the Leon County Jail on $15,000 bond.
At Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, an unknown man who is believed to have been impersonating an Uber driver picked up a group of women on Sept. 6, according to an alert email issued by the university. The report said the driver “initiated inappropriate conversations,” and at the end of the ride attempted to unwantedly hug one of the women.
Detective Robert Rangel of the TCU police said the driver stopped and approached four other groups of women throughout the day, before he was identified and stopped by campus police. At the time, they were unable to verify if the driver actually worked for Uber.
Rangel is still waiting on information from Uber to determine if the man is involved with the company or not. Uber initially declined to confirm or deny the man’s status as a driver, and Rangel is pursuing a subpoena for the information.
It is currently unknown if legal action will be taken, though Rangel said he was “hoping so.” The victims are currently “trying to file charges,” though those students involved do hold what Rangel described as the “usual concerns” about retaliation from the driver should they go through with charges.
Simmons College had a similar experience on Sept. 11. According to an email alert sent by the college, a student had ordered a ride through Uber and “an unidentified male in his mid-to-late 30’s [was] approached by the student and falsely identified himself as her Uber driver.” The student’s friend urged her to check the make and model of the car, as well as the licence plate, against the information Uber sent her, and the vehicle abruptly sped away from the area.
No further information is known about the incident or the driver, and Simmons College warned its students to check that they have the correct vehicle every time before getting in.
Dave Sutton is a spokesperson for “Who’s Driving You?” a campaign highlighting the complications with for-hire driving services like Uber and Lyft. He is quoted in the press release as saying women in colleges all across the country should be on the lookout for Uber impostors.
“Taxis are required to have external markings to help the public recognize legitimate transportation providers,” Sutton said. “Uber should possess more obvious and harder-to-fake external markings to better warn passengers away from impostors.”
Lauren Altmin, a spokesperson for Uber, said there are ways in which riders can protect themselves from incidents like these.
“Bottom line, the [application] includes several features designed to protect both riders and drivers,” Altmin said.
Before the ride even begins, riders can view information about their driver, including his or her name, a photograph, the license plate number and a picture of the vehicle. They can also see the driver’s rating. Most drivers also have an Uber phone mounted on their dashboard with the route highlighted.
Once riders are picked up, they can use the app to share details from their trip, including estimated arrival time and the route they are taking. Friends and family members can monitor their progress and ensure they arrive safely at their destination.
When the ride is over, both riders and drivers can rate each other and provide helpful feedback to the company. Uber customer support staff members are available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
Valparaiso University’s Sexual Assault Awareness and Facilitative Education (SAAFE) office has several tips and suggestions to help students be as safe as possible when using companies such as Uber.
“Definitely do not go alone,” Assistant Director Paula Dranger said. “Ride Uber in pairs, at least. Perpetrators look for vulnerable situations.”
She said by riding with a friend or in a group, students looks less vulnerable and more protected.
Dranger also said students should consider downloading an emergency application that would send warnings or messages to a friend or group of friends at the push of a button if they ever felt unsafe. The two that the SAAFE office most often recommends are “Circle of 6” and “bSAFE.” Both are free and available on the Apple App Store for iPhone, and through the Google Play Store for Android.
If a student finds himself or herself in a situation that makes them uncomfortable, Dranger said the first thing they should do is “look for options of getting out of situations.”
Dranger said some of the best advice is “don’t be afraid to make a fuss if you feel unsafe.” This will attract attention the perpetrator doesn’t want, and will scare them away.
Dranger added that unfortunately, if a student needs to get around the city at night and doesn’t have a car, there are few alternatives. A student could call the Valpo van, but only if they are staying on-campus. Barring any alternatives, Dranger said the simplest thing to do is to check the car, driver and licence plate against the information provided by the application.
“If you think that something feels weird, trust [your instinct],” Dranger said.
She also said students should never be afraid to call the police if they feel threatened or endangered in any way.
Contact Stacy McKeigue and Sarah Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.