As Mardi Gras approaches, beware of thieves posing as ride-booking drivers, victims say | Crime/Police
Around 2 a.m. Friday, New Orleans police responded to a call in the French Quarter. A 24-year-old man had entered what he thought was his transport vehicle in the 200 block of Royal Street. Instead of driving him to his destination, the two women in the vehicle pulled out a gun and took his wallet and phone, police said.
It was one of at least five cases since May where police have recorded complaints of thieves posing as drivers of ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft: three in the central business district, one in the French Quarter and one in the Fontainebleau district. All the drivers were women, and in all cases except one they were armed with guns.
Official reports may underestimate the number of such crimes. A Houston man says he didn’t call the police after he was robbed and assaulted by a fake driver who picked him up in the French Quarter last month.
“I did not file a complaint,” said the victim, who did not want his name to be mentioned for professional reasons. “I went to the hospital and came straight back to Houston.”
A late night ride home gone wrong
In town to visit college friends, the man left Pat O’Brien’s bar around 3 a.m. on January 2 and booked a ride through a phone app. Two women driving a car that appeared to be the same make and model as the one shown on the app pulled over. He entered.
He doesn’t remember what happened next.
“I haven’t confirmed the license plate,” he said. “I walked in and went black from there.”
When the man woke up, he was outside Caesars Superdome, bleeding from the head. His Rolex watch, phone, debit and credit cards were gone. A trip to the ER in Touro’s infirmary revealed a minor concussion.
Meanwhile, the thieves had accessed his stock brokerage app, transferred money and purchased Visa gift cards. He estimates his total loss of property at $25,000. He is very upset to have lost his late grandfather’s watch.
“It’s very sentimental, not something I would give up if I weren’t scared for my life,” he said.
“I know you’re not our Lyft driver”
Two days earlier, another man, a graphic designer from New Orleans, was ready to go home around 3:30 a.m. after a night out with two friends in the French Quarter.
“I ordered a Lyft, and it was a white SUV that was supposed to pick us up,” he said. “So when a white SUV pulled up and [two women] I said, ‘Hey, we’re picking you up’, I didn’t think twice and we got in the car.
The man realized something was wrong when his real Lyft driver called his phone to ask where he was.
“I tried to stay calm,” he said. “To panic would have been useless.”
Trying not to betray that he knew something was wrong, while wanting to get his friends out of a dangerous situation, the man asked the women to stop by a pharmacy so he could buy some the water. They complied. From inside the store, he called his friends and alerted them; one got out of the vehicle, but the other refused to leave.
“We were a little drunk,” the man said. “I wasn’t going to leave him alone, because God knows what could have happened to him.”
The man withdrew cash from an ATM and offered it to the drivers. “I said, ‘I know you’re not our Lyft driver. I need you to drop us off at this intersection.
The women took the money but demanded more, which he denied. After the man and his friends got out of the SUV near his Lower Garden District apartment building, he discovered his phone and credit cards were missing.
The thieves sold all of his cryptocurrency investments through the Coinbase platform, opened an Apple credit card account, and racked up debt on his existing credit cards. They stole about $20,000 worth of goods and cash, he said.
“I had to file an identity theft complaint, change all my passwords, cancel my cards, order new cards, buy a new phone, and pay capital gains tax on those Coinbase investments” , did he declare.
He filed a police report but said he was never called back and the police never came to his apartment.
Ways to stay safe
New Orleans police are investigating another such crime, involving two women posing as Uber drivers in the 4100 block of State Street on January 2 at around 3:50 p.m. Police spokesman Gary Scheets, said he did not know if an arrest had been made.
Scheets encouraged people to be aware of their surroundings.
“If you are using a ridesharing app, pay attention to the feature that displays the driver’s name, along with a photo. This information should also include the vehicle’s make, model, color and license plate,” Scheets said. “If a different driver and vehicle arrive, cancel the ride. If the person feels threatened or in danger, they should immediately call 911 to report the incident.
The Houston man said he would triple check his ride booking drivers in the future. As revelers in Mardi Gras season take to the streets and book nighttime rides, he hopes they do the same.
“The best I can do is raise awareness and save someone else from what’s happening to him,” he said.
A 24-year-old man was robbed in the Audubon area by two women he thought were Uber drivers, New Orleans police said.