Chicago rideshare drivers offer “real world” anti-carjacking tips

As Chicago’s carjacking problem rolls along, many people are asking if there are specific things they can do to minimize their chances of becoming the next victim. Here are some ideas.

What about rideshare drivers, though? Their job literally requires them to allow strangers into their car. And police have repeatedly warned that carjackers are luring Uber and Lyft drivers into hijackings by ordering rides via the companies’ apps.

Those fateful rides are frequently ordered on stolen phones or by people who use bogus identities.

So, what can rideshare drivers do? We asked Uber and Lyft for their advice. Then, we talked to three rideshare drivers who say they’ve been targeted by carjackers about what they are doing to minimize risk. Here are some highlights:

  • Cancel any ride you don’t trust
  • Cancel any ride with a fake user name
  • Stay informed by listening to police scanner apps while driving
  • Be on alert while sitting in your car, waiting for your passenger
  • Be wary if your passenger gets out of another car when you arrive at the pick-up location

Both Uber and Lyft drivers can decline rides or cancel rides if they feel uncomfortable, according to the companies.

“I was an excellent driver,” one rideshare driver told us over the weekend. “Very high rating. My rank is so low now. It’s because I’m declining so many rides.”

Recalling a video of a Lyft driver being carjacked at gunpoint while sitting outside Willis Tower last week, the driver said, “That’s the most vulnerable part, is waiting for the ride.”

Another driver says he “stays low profile” by not using the companies’ illuminated lights on his dash.

Neither Uber nor Lyft offered explicit ways for drivers to confirm that the person getting into their car is a legitimate account holder. And many of the companies’ driver safety features rely on the driver having access to their phone, which is not possible if it’s inside a car that’s been hijacked.

“We encourage all riders to upload a photo to their Lyft account,” a company spokesperson said.

Uber’s safety recommendations advise drivers to verify a rider’s identity by asking them to confirm the driver’s name.

But knowing the driver’s name, which is provided in the app, offers no assurance that the passenger owns the account or that the account is legitimate. And anyone can put their face on an account — with COVID masks, hoods, and winter caps proliferating our wardrobes these days, who can see anyone’s face anyway?

And, drivers say, they know riders are creating accounts with fake names.

“I’ve had ride requests from ‘Boy George’ and ‘Shorty2Hot,’” a driver said. “I cancel any rides like that.”

“I call everyone beforehand. If there’s no answer after two tries, I text. Then, I cancel if there’s no answer,” he continued.

“Uber drivers have nothing to stay safe except confirming the name with the rider once rider hops into the car,” a third driver told us. He says he was beaten and carjacked by 3 men when he responded to a call for service.

“When I reached the pickup point, there was an SUV already parked on the middle of the street, blocking the way. Three guys came out of the SUV and asked me if I was the Uber. I said ‘yes’ and they hopped on to the back seat. I was about to ask their name when the person sitting behind me quickly wrapped his arm around my neck and started to strangle me,” the driver recalled. “The guy kept his pressure for almost 40-50 seconds and I blacked out for few seconds.”

The men dragged the driver from his car, threw him on the street, and drove away with his car, wallet, and phone. He suffered neck and back injuries, he said.

“Police found my car 4 days later, which had dents and damages. The total cost of repair is $6000, which can go up.”

Both Uber and Lyft say they are working with investigators.

“We have been in contact with the Chicago Police Department and stand ready to support them in their efforts to address this issue,” a Lyft representative said.

Uber’s spokesperson said their company “routinely work[s] with police on investigations.”

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com