Chicago carjacking: Rideshare drivers say fake names, no profile pictures make it easier for criminals to target them

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, February 12, 2021
Rideshare drivers say fake names, no profile pictures make them carjacking targets
Rideshare drivers are calling for changes to popular platforms in response to a dramatic increase in carjackings in Chicago and the surrounding area.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Rideshare drivers are calling for changes to popular platforms in response to a dramatic increase in carjackings.

A dive into the data reveals the hotspots for the crimes, and concerns about "phantom rideshare profiles" which may add to the risk. Local drivers are so concerned about the increase, they've gathered more than 1,700 signatures on a petition.

Their top concern is rider profiles with suspicious names and no pictures.

Driver Siraj Mehdi Syed escaped a near-deadly confrontation that was captured on smartphone video.

"I don't know what happened, when I turn back I see all my glass and everything broke because of the bullets," he said.

He filed a police report and believes the shooters were trying to carjack him.

Chicago police said on Jan. 20, a rideshare driver was carjacked in front of Willis Tower. ABC7 Eyewitness News has talked to other rideshare drivers who said they were carjacked by their own passengers.

"I got carjacked from a passenger who stole somebody's phone and requested a ride," Angel Haralson said.

Syed said before he was carjacked he was on the way to pick up a passenger who he said had a fake nickname and no picture on their profile. Drivers say that puts them at higher risk.

"I feel very nervous when I see the nicknames because I want to see the real names of the customer," said Syed.

And at least 1,700 rideshare drivers agree with him, signing a petition asking Uber and Lyft to prohibit use of fake names. Drivers want to see a real first names and want rideshare companies to require a state ID or license picture to be uploaded as a rider picture, instead of the ability to use a blank avatar.

"Oftentimes people will put in pictures of their cat, or you know some landscaping," said Suzette Wright, a rideshare driver who signed the petition.

"I'm scared because we don't know who this passenger is," said Brandon Franklin, a rideshare driver who signed the petition.

When asked about the phantom profiles, Chicago Police Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan told the I-Team, "We're extremely concerned. You get these cars to the location, they're waiting for you and once inside the vehicle it's much easier for them to force the individual out of the car. So yeah, we're seeing an uptick."

Overall carjackings in the city and suburbs have skyrocketed during the pandemic, with 218 in January alone in Chicago. That's more than triple when compared to the same time last year.

The ABC 7 data team found a sharp increase in rideshare drivers being victimized in Chicago. According to Chicago police, in 2018 there was one incident and in 2019 one incident, but then it jumped to 16 in 2020.

Thirteen incidents involved guns, two involved knives or sharp objects, and 3 had the rideshare driver physically overpowered without a weapon involved.

There's a cluster on the West Side, a smaller amount on the South Side, and few more all over the city.

Uber and Lyft both say they're working with police to keep drivers safe, pointing out that both platforms have technologies which can track rides and allow for drivers and riders to request real time emergency help.

But what about those phantom profiles? Lyft says it encourages all riders to upload a photo and that drivers can view the rider's name and rating before choosing to accept a ride.

Uber says it "... continues to implement new processes and technology to identify and prevent user fraud."

"You're not really sure if this ride was ordered by someone for someone else to take the ride, or if someone is just using a fake account," said Suzette Wright, rideshare driver.

Carjackings can also happen to rideshare drivers while passengers are in the car. Experts say everyone should be suspicious of criminals who may tap your bumper intentionally, trying to get drivers to stop.

Always keep the doors locked while driving and your phone on and close to you so you can make a fast call to 911.

Full statement from Uber

"Issues that affect the safety of drivers are very concerning to us. Working in partnership with law enforcement, we've sent safety information to drivers and couriers and are working with police on their investigations into these terrible crimes. Uber continues to implement new processes and technology to identify and prevent user fraud."

Full statement from Lyft

"Safety is fundamental to Lyft, and we are working with law enforcement to help keep drivers safe. We're also exploring ways to expand the use of certain safety features and alerts to prevent these kinds of incidents moving forward."