It seems unlikely, and it is somewhat rare, but it does happen every so often.
Every now and then an Uber or Lyft driver will pick someone up who intends on using their car in the commission of a crime. Or, if the passenger is using a stolen credit card, the use of their car is the crime.
But whatever the crime is, you don’t want a dangerous criminal in your car… especially one who is using your car in the commission of a crime.
At the same time, you also don’t want to bring any unnecessary danger to yourself. So once you have identified a criminal passenger, your next step is to figure out the safest way to extract yourself from the situation.
Outside of random crimes committed specifically against the driver, the two most common crimes committed in or with rideshare vehicles come with advanced warning signs that make them easy for knowledgeable and experienced drivers to spot.
Step One: Prevention – Know Your Typical Passenger And Your Typical Trip
The more experience you have as a rideshare driver the better your ability will be to spot anything out of the ordinary. Some of this comes with common sense, but the bulk of it is experience.
Before you can get a hunch that something is suspicious about your passenger, there’s two things you should be aware of:
- What the typical passenger in your area is like.
- What the typical trip in your area is like.
The most common Uber and Lyft trips are ones that are under an hour and have a single destination.
Of course, every now and then you’ll get a passenger who has to make one or two extra stops, but they’ll usually tell you why and they’ll have a reasonable explanation – like they’re dropping off the other two people who are riding with them.
While most drivers would love to get a 6-hour 300-mile trip, these types of trips are simply not done by paying passengers. If you get a super long trip, that is almost always the sign of some type of crime.
Multiple stops is another key indicator of possible criminal activity.
The key to knowing whether or not multiple stops should rouse your suspicions is whether or not the passenger informed you of them in advance and if the passenger sticks to the plan they informed you of.
If you have a passenger who tells you ahead of time they have two stops, but after the second stop they suddenly add another, and then another, that should definitely raise suspicions.
The two most common crimes passengers commit (that don’t directly victimize the driver) are credit card fraud and drug crimes.
And it’s very common for these criminals to summon the most expensive Uberand Lyft cars, like UberBlack, UberSUV or Lyft Lux. After all, they’re not actually paying for the trip, so why not take the best cars available.
Scenario: Credit Card Fraud
In credit card fraud crimes, the passenger is using a stolen card to pay for his Uber or Lyft trip.
Since somebody else is footing the bill, the most obvious sign you have someone in the car using a stolen card, is that they will want you to take them on an insanely long trip. Four to eight hours is most common among people using stolen cards. These trips will often be single-destination, long-distance trips.
For instance, they may go from Charlotte to Atlanta. Or from New York to Washington DC. Or, LA to San Jose. They are trips that a rational person simply would not take. They would fly because flying would be quicker and much cheaper.
For instance, an UberBlack car from LA to San Jose would cost around $1,400 and take six to seven hours. But a flight only costs $136 and takes an hour and 15 minutes. So, when you see somebody taking what is an irrational trip expense-wise, that is a big red flag that they’re probably using a stolen credit card.
What to Do
If you get a trip like this, you may be tempted to drive until the passenger says they’re done. You can easily rack up several hundred dollars in charges on these trips.
However, there are two very compelling reasons why you will want to end this trip as quickly as possible.
First, for your own safety. Typically, these passengers will be fairly pleasant and easy to deal with. They know they’re doing something wrong and they don’t want you to become suspicious, so they will try to be as nice as possible. They can sometimes even be quite charming! They want you to feel like they’re a friend and they want to feel like you’re on their side.
But don’t let this fool you. These are potentially dangerous people.
Many criminals, even the most seemingly non-violent, can become dangerous when they feel threatened. And what makes these guys feel threatened is the suspicion that somebody might be onto them.
So, whatever you do – do not let them know or suspect, that you know or suspect anything about them! The minute you drop a hint that you suspect they’re up to something shady, they will feel threatened and when a criminal feels threatened that’s when they can become unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
Take a look at this video. This is a Lyft driver in Detroit who recently got shot at by his passengers. Fortunately, he didn’t get hit. But he made some critical mistakes that if he had avoided, it probably would have kept him out of trouble.
- 0:55 seconds: His first mistake – he catches the passenger using a fraudulent name and he begins to question him about it. A more experienced driver would have realized, you never back a passenger you suspect of fraudulent or criminal activity into a corner. You never confront them with their lie or their crime. You just keep that information to yourself and start making a plan to get them out of the car as soon as you possibly can. But, you never want them to feel like you’re onto them or that you’re trying to get them out of the car. That’s what this guy did in the video. He directly told them to get out. And that led to big trouble for him a couple of minutes later.
- 1:26: His second mistake – He directly tells them to get out of his car. While he has every right to do so – because it is after all his car – it is never a smart thing to do in any situation with a passenger. But it is an especially serious mistake with anyone who might be committing a crime. An experienced driver will keep all this information in mind and start planning a smooth and subtle way to get out of the trip. He will come up with a plan that will eventually get the passengers out of the car without ever making them think he suspects anything.
- 1:29: His third mistake – Just three seconds after making his second mistake, he makes his third and most serious mistake. He directly accuses them of committing a crime! You never do that. And you especially never do it when the passenger is really a criminal! Criminals don’t like getting caught. They don’t like being accused. It makes them feel like they’re backed into a corner and there’s a good likelihood it may push them into something more violent.
- 1:40: His fourth and most costly mistake – The criminals grabbed something out of his car and jumped out and ran off with it. At that moment he received conclusive proof that they were in fact real criminals. You don’t want to mess with real criminals – because real criminals are likely to have guns or knives and they’re not as reluctant as the rest of us to hurt you. At that moment, the driver should have jammed his car into drive and gotten out of there! Forget whatever it is they stole from you, everything can be replaced. Your safety is the number one most important thing in a situation like this. I know it’s not natural to stay in your car and run when someone just stole something from you. It’s natural to get out and chase them down. But, that’s why it’s good to think about these situations before they occur so you can do the right thing if it happens to you. It’s natural to chase them, but that almost cost this driver his life. The smart thing to do is to RUN!
So, remember, whatever else you do, do not let them know you suspect anything, never demand that they get out of your car and never accuse them of a crime! (I’ll show you how to get out of this situation in a minute).
Credit card fraud may seem like a victimless, non-violent crime. But, it’s not.
Remember, the nice guy sitting in your backseat is riding on a credit card that he stole. Most criminals who use stolen credit cards purchase the card number from another criminal.
So, the guy riding with you either stole the card directly himself (which makes him even more dangerous) or he purchased it from someone else – which means he routinely deals with other more hardcore criminals. Either way, he could be potentially dangerous. Especially if he suspects that you suspect something.
The second reason you don’t want to take this trip is you won’t get paid.
Uber and Lyft both have security protocols in place to detect these types of trips and they will not pay you for them.
One New York driver reported that he racked up more than $700 on one of these trips with Lyft and Lyft ended up paying him just $64. So, he drove around for ten hours for $64. It’s just not worth it.
It’s not worth risking your safety and it’s not worth wasting your time that you’re not going to be paid for.
Scenario: Drug Crimes
The first thing you need to know about drug criminals is that they most likely are also using stolen credit cards.
They are not personally paying for the trip, so they will exhibit a lot of the same behaviors as mentioned above. BUT… there is one major difference.
The typical sign that your passenger is also involved in drug crimes is that they too will have you drive them around for several hours, but they will make many stops and they’ll usually stay local.
They will also typically have a backpack or some kind of bag with them. When you drop them off they’ll often carry something with them from the car, go into a house or building and when they come out they’ll be empty handed. Except for a wad of cash that you’ll never see.
In a case like this, some criminals are buying and/or selling drugs and they’re using you to take them to rendezvous with their customers or dealers where they will complete a transaction.
Oftentimes it will seem like these people typically appear to have no plan. They appear to be deciding where to go next – as they go. When you pick them up they may tell you they have several stops but they won’t tell you how many – because they don’t really know themselves.
What to Do
They may ask if you can stay with them for a few hours – which is a big sign in itself. If anyone asks you if you can drive them for several hours the best answer you can give is NO!
Give them some excuse why you can’t, but just say no. Say it nicely and professionally, but just say no!
Don’t be lured in and tempted by the amount of money you think you’re going to make. Because you’re not. Neither Uber nor Lyft will pay you for these trips. And Uber has been known to instantly deactivate drivers who have driven these kinds of trips!
When you drop the drug dealer off at each of his stops, he will probably come back to your car and ask you to chill for a bit. He’ll tell you he’ll know where they’re going next in a few minutes, and they’ll ask you to please wait. Or they may just leave you hanging and not come back for a while.
Remember, the drug dealers are dealing in cash and they will most likely have a huge amount of it on them.
They are constantly aware of this and they’re paranoid about it and they’re very protective of it.
If anything happens to make them feel that cash is at risk, they could lash out in a violent way to protect it.
So, again, you never want to make them feel that you suspect them of anything.
What To Do Once You’ve Determined a Criminal is in Your Car
Once you have assessed that your passenger is most likely committing crimes from your car or at least involved in some sort of criminal activity, like credit card fraud, you want to get away from them as quickly as possible.
But, you do not want to do so in a way that would alert them to the fact that you have determined they are involved in some kind of criminal activity. I can’t stress this enough… you DO NOT want to make them feel threatened in any way.
You want to just play along, pretend that you know nothing. Be nice. Talk to them if they want to talk. Basically, you want to treat them like you would any other passenger. This is the best way to keep them from becoming suspicious that you might know something.
While you’re playing dumb though, you want to have your brain in full gear trying to figure out a way to escape the situation and get away from them. You want to “escape” in a way that will not alarm them.
I’ll tell you what a friend of mine did in a minute. But, there are many ways to escape.
If you’re with a drug dealer who is making multiple stops, running in and coming back out a few minutes later, the easiest thing you can do is just leave while he’s inside!
If he left anything in your car, just take it out and set it on the sidewalk next to where you were parked and then get outta there! And don’t forget to end the trip on the app so they won’t be able to call you anymore.
However, a lot of times these guys travel in groups. One will go inside and another two or three will wait in the car.
In that case, do not leave while the guy is inside – obviously! If he’s traveling with a group of guys you’re going to have to get a little more creative.
The ‘Bathroom’ Trick
One trick you can use is the old ‘bathroom’ trick.
Since they’ve kept you out for longer than the typical trip, tell them you need to find a restroom.
Pull into a gas station or store or restaurant. Anywhere you can find where you can park and get out of the car. Turn the car off and take the keys and your phone with you.
If they say anything about it, like, “hey man, you can trust us, you don’t have to take the keys!” tell them it’s your policy, you never leave a passenger in the car with the keys and the car running. Remember, they like to think you’re treating them like you treat everybody else.
Once you get inside, look for a safe place to hide and then call the police. Tell them you’re in danger and you fear for your safety. If they ask if they have a weapon, say, “they could, they have a bag and I can’t see what’s in it, but it looks like a weapon.”
The reason you want to say that is because it will make the police come much faster and the truth is, they could have a weapon and you could be in real danger.
Then, just wait for the police to arrive. Don’t go back out to the car if you can help it and try not to let them ever see you again. When the police arrive, ask someone in the restaurant to bring them inside so they can talk to you.
This is a last-resort method to get away from them. Only use it if you feel there is no other way to safely get away from them.
One trick that used to be recommended for situations like this, was to drive by a police station and stop and get out.
However, that is no longer recommended by law enforcement officials. The reason is obvious. Because the closer you get to the police station, the more paranoid the criminals will become and the more paranoid they become the more dangerous they may become.
I Got a Sketchy Call from the Bronx
A few months ago I was driving for UberBlack up in Westchester County, New York. This is one of the wealthiest counties in the country and it’s just north of New York City.
I would normally wait an hour or so before I’d get my first call, but on this day I got a call right away. It said the destination was four miles away in the Bronx. I thought, “Hmm… I don’t know about the Bronx!” But there are some very nice parts of the Bronx where you could legitimately get Black car calls from so I headed down, hoping for the best.
As I drove toward the pickup location my phone rang and it was my passenger. He said, “Hey dude, how’s your day going!?” He sounded super friendly.
But, I guess he didn’t know that Black car clients don’t talk like that. You learn from experience that they don’t call their driver “dude” and they don’t call to ask how your day is going!
I immediately thought, I’m not going to pick this guy up.
But, I thought I’ll give him a chance and see what he was up to. So, I said, “My day’s going great, how’s yours?” He said, “Awesome dude!” Again, the “dude”… something’s not right here, I realized.
He then said, “Are you busy today?” Come on now, how many passengers have ever called before I arrived to ask if I was busy!? I’ll tell you how many. Exactly ZERO! In more than 3,000 trips, it has never happened. So, again, from experience you learn to spot something that’s very out of the ordinary.
I wasn’t even sure how to answer such a question. Yes, I was busy. I was working, obviously. I was busy driving to pick him up! But I said, “No, my only job right now is to pick you up.”
He said, “Oh, okay. So, I wanted to ask you, could drive me for a few hours?” With that question, the red flags were really adding up. I had learned of this fraudulent card / drug dealer scam from other drivers. And they all told the same story. The criminal passengers want to keep you with them for several hours and they make many stops all over town.
When he asked me if I could drive him for a few hours, I asked him how many hours he was talking about. He said, “four or five”. Again, another huge red flag. No real customer wants an Uber car for four-five hours! But, I said okay. I had absolutely no intention of doing it at this point, but no need to let him know my plans.
By now, he had put up four or five serious red flags and I had decided I was not going to pick him up.
But, just out of curiosity, I drove to his pickup location to see what kind of area he was in. The closer I got the seedier the area became so I pretty much knew at that point it wasn’t going to get better.
I cancelled the trip three blocks from his house so he would no longer be able to follow me on the map. Uber has a list of reasons for cancellation and “Fraud” is one of the reasons, so I selected that one and ended the trip.
Long story short: His house was in one of the worst ghetto areas of New York City. And I was almost certain that he was involved in some kind of criminal activities. I may not have enough evidence to prove it in court – but proving it in court wasn’t my goal.
My only goal was to protect my own safety so I could come home to my wife and family in one piece at the end of the day.
My Friend’s Non-Existent Daughter Saved the Day
A friend of mine, another New York driver, told me he got the exact same kind of call a few weeks before I did. His ended a little differently though. And what he told me is a great lesson to all of us so I thought I’d share it with you here.
He got an SUV call, from a ghetto area of the Bronx, which was a red flag in itself. SUVs are the highest-priced Uber class of vehicles. In New York they cost $4.50 a mile and $0.80 a minute. The minimum distance trip is $25.
So you just don’t get legitimate SUV or Black Car calls from the poorest neighborhoods. He instantly knew it was a suspicious call because of that.
Like my case, his passenger called him and asked if he was busy today! He then told him he needed him for a couple of hours, that he had several “errands” to run around town. My friend, who was an inexperienced driver at that time, told the guy no problem.
When he picked him up, the guy came out with three other people. The four of them got in and went on a multi-stop trip that took a little over an hour.
My friend finally realized something wasn’t right and he knew these guys were sketchy at best, and he had figured out by this point they were doing some kind of drug deals.
With that he wanted to get them out of his car, but every time he did a stop, some of them stayed with him. He said it felt like they were guarding him so he couldn’t leave. He wanted to get away but it took him another four hours or to do so.
The whole time, he stayed very upbeat with them. Talking when they wanted to talk and keeping quiet when they didn’t. He didn’t ask them any questions about what they were doing, but instead he just acted like he was enjoying driving them around. Which was very smart, because criminals want to know that you’re on their side.
As long as they feel like you’re with them, they won’t get suspicious and paranoid. And if they’re not suspicious and paranoid they won’t be very likely to try to harm you.
Finally, after driving them around for another four hours, he came up with a brilliant plan!
He figured all guys, even criminals, have a soft spot in their hearts for little daughters. So, a little before they arrived at what would be his last stop with them, he said, “Guys, I’ve enjoyed so much driving you today and I wish I could go longer, but I have a little baby girl at home and she’s been with the baby sitter all day. And I just have to get back to her now. She doesn’t usually go this long without me and I know she must be missing me terribly.”
Even though he had planned it, he was stunned by their reaction. These hardened ghetto guys suddenly melted into little teddy bears!
They said, “Oh wow! You have a daughter? How old is she!? Man… no problem! We totally understand. You gotta take care of your little girl. Now, that’s special!!”
And with that he had brilliantly and safely gotten out of what could have been a pretty risky situation!
I guess the moral of that story is that criminals are people too! So, remember that and use it if you ever need to.
The bottom line in situations like this is:
- Play it cool.
- Don’t let on that you know.
- Treat them well and with respect.
- Never let them know you suspect them of a crime
- Never directly tell them to get out of your car
- Get out of it as soon as you can in whatever way you think is best.
Oh and by the way, this guy did this trip on Uber. When he ended the trip they said he had made a little over $500. But a couple of days later they took the $500 away and replaced it with $46. It was not worth his time at all. It came to about $9 an hour. But he drives a BlackCar/SUV and can make anywhere from $40-$150 an hour. It wasn’t worth it in terms of his personal safety and it wasn’t worth it in terms of earnings.
Have you ever suspected that criminal activity was occurring in your car? What did you do about it? Let us know in the comments below!