All eight incidents occurred within miles of each other in the Mechanicsville neighborhood of southwest Atlanta. Each one played out similarly, with the driver being asked to exit the vehicle after a rider said they needed to put something in the trunk.
“The suspect will attempt to lure the driver out of his or her vehicle by attempting to get some assistance with opening the trunk. When the driver exits the vehicle, one or more suspects will immediately enter the vehicle and drive away,” Malecki said.
On July 19, an Uber driver arrived in the 200 block of Crumley Street and was asked by one of the two riders for assistance opening the trunk, an incident report said. When the driver stepped out of his car, one rider jumped in and sped away as the other ran off, according to the report.
A little over a week later, another rideshare driver had his car stolen by three men posing as riders in the 500 block of Cooper Street. Similarly, the driver was asked by a rider to open the trunk, an incident report said.
That’s when the riders jumped into the car, but the driver quickly pulled one person out, the report said. The two began scuffling on the ground until one rider pointed a handgun at the driver, according to the report. The three men ran away and did not shoot, the report said.
Most recently, a Lyft driver went to pick up three men Monday in the 500 block of Windsor Street when a rider, who went by the name “Big,” asked for help opening the trunk, another incident report said. The two other riders jumped into the car along with the man and drove off, according to the report.
The man’s sister had ordered the Lyft for him and told police he called her about six times saying he needed a ride home. She did not know what he was planning to do when the ride arrived, the report said.
Rideshare agencies have been made aware of these incidents.
“Safety is a top priority for us and what’s been reported is very concerning. We are constantly working to enhance safety technology in the app for riders and drivers, and work closely with law enforcement to assist with investigations and develop safety information for drivers,” an Uber spokesperson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an email.
In April, Uber rolled out a new verification feature across the United States that requires riders using anonymous forms of payments to upload an ID or passport for verification. That feature was the result of Uber and law enforcement finding out that many auto thefts occur when riders use anonymous forms of payments, including gift cards, Venmo or prepaid debit cards, Uber spokeswoman Austen Radcliff confirmed.
Lyft has also put rider and driver safety at the forefront of their mission.
“Safety is fundamental to Lyft and we are working closely with law enforcement to help keep drivers safe. Since day one, we’ve worked hard to design policies and features to protect and empower drivers, and are always working to make Lyft an even safer platform for our community,” a Lyft spokesperson told the AJC.
In the app, Lyft drivers and riders can discreetly connect with an ADT security professional who will be notified of the user’s location, the vehicle’s model and license plate number, as well as the drop-off location so that safety personnel can be on their way if needed. The company is also notified when a ride stops too soon or for an unusual amount of time, and Lyft will contact the user asking if they need emergency assistance.
Atlanta police advised drivers to be attentive when picking up riders in Mechanicsville and other parts of the city.
“Try to position your vehicle in a way that allows you to leave a location easily if needed. If someone attempts to lure you out of your vehicle, you should treat this as a red flag. If you know your trunk is functioning, drive off from the location and report this activity to police. If you do have to step out of your vehicle, turn the vehicle off, take your keys and lock the door,” Malecki said.