Watch out, ride-share riders. In cities around the country, people are posing as Uber and Lyft drivers and assaulting unsuspecting passengers.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is partnering with Uber and the city's police department to warn people to get the word out.
Gascon on Tuesday launched a public education campaign called "Rideshare with Care" to spell out what passengers should do before getting into a car. He said riders should verify the license plate of the Uber or Lyft car, ask the driver for their name, and share the ride location and destination with a friend or family member.
"Over 170,000 rideshare trips are taken on a typical weekday and mostly the services are safe," Gascon said at a press conference in San Francisco's Hall of Justice on Tuesday. "We also know that when things go wrong, they can go terribly wrong."
Getting into a car with a stranger would've been unheard of just five years ago, but it's become the norm as ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft have gained popularity. But predators have taken advantage of this situation. A report made public on Tuesday detailed how one woman flung herself from a moving car in Las Vegas after being abducted by a fake Uber driver, according to ABC.
In San Francisco, headlines were made by a man who's been labeled the "rideshare rapist." Orlando Vilchez Lazo is accused of raping four women in separate incidents over the past five years. He was arrested in July and pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Lazo allegedly picked up his victims late at night from bars and clubs, held them against their will, and then drove them to unknown locations. Lazo was a Lyft driver, but because of ongoing litigation, it's unclear if he was posing as a driver during these incidents or using the app.
"You see the stories in the news and so do we," Uber spokesman Andrew Hasbun said. "This is a situation that is totally preventable."
To make sure riders get in the right car, Hasbun said people should verify not only the license plate number but also the color, make and model of the car. Passengers should also ask drivers for their name before getting in the car and make sure it matches what it says in the app.
"The safety features that are built in to the Uber app don't work unless you get into the right car," Hasbun said.
Lyft didn't attend the press conference on Tuesday, but in an email a company spokeswoman said, "We applaud the district attorney's efforts to educate the rideshare community about simple steps everyone can take to stay safe."
First published Sept. 11 at 3:03 p.m. PT.
Update at 4:44 p.m. PT: Added comment from Lyft.
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