Ride Hailing-Fake Drivers

FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2016, file photo, a ride share car displays Lyft and Uber stickers on its front windshield in downtown Los Angeles. Law enforcement agencies and ride-hailing companies are intensifying efforts to warn passengers against getting in without checking to ensure both the vehicle and driver are legitimate. 

After a college student recently died after entering what she thought was her Uber, students are becoming a little more wary of rideshare companies.

The nation is mourning the loss of University of South Carolina (USC) senior Samantha Josephson after she got into the wrong car, thinking it was her Uber, only to not return home.

Josephson was out with a group of friends at a local bar Thursday, March 28, and somehow got separated from the rest of the group, so she decided to get an Uber ride home. Around 2 a.m. Friday, a black Chevy Impala pulled up to the bar, and Josephson got in.

Josephson’s friends had been trying to reach her the next morning, and when they received no response, they called the Columbia Police to file a missing persons report.

The police received a call from the sheriff’s office that afternoon, saying turkey hunters found her body in the woods roughly 70 miles from the bar where she left the night before.

Around 3 a.m. Saturday morning, a K9 officer pulled over a black Impala, and the driver of the vehicle, Nathaniel Rowland, took off on foot and ran. The police were able to catch him and take him into custody, where he will be charged with murder and kidnapping.

This is not the first case of false Uber drivers. Back in September, Elizabeth Suarez jumped out of a moving vehicle after entering what she thought was an Uber.

Suarez received a notification that her Uber was on the way, so Suarez went outside to wait on it. When she went out, a car matching the Uber description waved her over in their direction.

Suarez asked the driver if his name was “Liz,” to where he responded yes and urged her to get in. It was not until she received a call from her actual Uber driver wondering where she was that she realized the mistake.

After the driver threatened her and asked for her wallet and phone, Suarez gave up her wallet, opened the car door and jumped out.

Freshman marketing major Erica Tuttle and sophomore education major Sydney Chipley both admitted that they worry about getting into a car with a complete stranger, but they find comfort in knowing that Uber and Lyft drivers go through background checks.

“I often get the same feeling if I have to walk around town by myself or with a friend. It’s the same mindset,” said Tuttle. “I lock in the fact that they had to have background checks in order to get this job, and it makes me feel a little better.”

Senior public relations major Hannah Davidson has used rideshare services many times but says she has never felt unsafe. However, she wonders if she should use greater caution.

“With the recent news of the USC student who passed away, it raises the question of why our generation, including myself, so blindly [trusts] an app,” said Davidson.

This incident has sparked a discussion of ways to make ridesharing safer. One idea has come out of the USC campus itself.

USC’s “What’s My Name?” campaign encourages those waiting on a ride to ask the driver if they know their name before getting into the car for simple verification.

While many Uber and Lyft drivers sport illuminated logos on their windshields, these verified signs may become mandatory in South Carolina, according to the Associated Press.

Uber also encouraged individuals to use safety precautions as well, such as USC’s idea of asking the Uber driver “What’s my name?”

“Since 2017, we’ve been working with local law enforcement and college campuses across the country to educate the public about how to avoid fake rideshare drivers,” an Uber spokesperson told The State. “Everyone at Uber is devastated to hear about this unspeakable crime, and our hearts are with Samantha Josephson’s family and loved ones. We remain focused on raising public awareness about this incredibly important issue.”

Uber also has safety tips on their website to ensure that their users remain safe riding from place to place. Some tips include staying inside until your driver notifies you, knowing your vehicle and sitting in the back seat.

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