Starting Friday, Uber is strengthening its verification process to validate the identity of riders using the app as an extra safeguard measure to protect its drivers.
JASON KNOWLES: Police say, a carjacker could actually order a rideshare driver directly to any address. The number one concern for rideshare drivers now, rider profiles with suspicious names and no pictures.
JASON KNOWLES: This video was taken moments after rideshare driver, Siraj Mehdi Syed, escaped a near deadly confrontation.
SIRAJ MEHDI SYED: I don't know what happened. When I turned back, I see all my glasses and everything broke because of the bullets.
JASON KNOWLES: He filed a police report and believes the shooters were trying to carjack him. And these bullets just feet away from you?
SIRAJ MEHDI SYED: Exactly, yeah.
JASON KNOWLES: On January 20, Chicago police say, this rideshare driver was carjacked in front of Willis Tower. ABC 7 has talked to other rideshare drivers this year who say they were carjacked by their own passengers.
ABDULLAH SALEEM: I got carjacked while from a passenger who stole somebody's phone and requested.
ANGEL HARALSON: I pulled over to let him out of the car, and I heard the gun click. And I just paused and called on Jesus.
JASON KNOWLES: Syed says, before he was carjacked, he was on the way to pick up a passenger who he says had a fake nickname and no picture on the profile. An issue that he and other rideshare drivers say puts them at a higher risk.
SIRAJ MEHDI SYED: I feel very nervous when I see the nicknames because I want to see the real names of the customer.
JASON KNOWLES: And at least 1,700 rideshare drivers agree with him, signing this petition asking UBER and Lyft to prohibit the use of fake names. Drivers want to see a real first name and want rideshare companies to require a state ID or license picture to be uploaded as a rider picture, instead of the ability to use a blank avatar.
SUZETTE WRIGHT: Oftentimes, people will put in pictures of their cat, or you know, some landscaping.
JASON KNOWLES: Suzette Wright and Brandon Franklin are rideshare drivers who are worried. They're encouraging others to sign the petition.
BRANDON FRANKLIN: I'm scared because we don't know who this passenger is.
JASON KNOWLES: How concerned are police over these phantom profiles?
BRENDAN DEENIHAN: We're extremely concerned. Should get these cars to the location they're waiting for you, and then once inside the vehicle, it's much easier then to force the individual out of the car.
JASON KNOWLES: Overall, carjackings in the city and suburbs are skyrocketing during the pandemic, with 218 in January alone in Chicago. That's more than triple when compared to the same time last year. The ABC 7 data team found a sharp increase in rideshare drivers also being victimized in Chicago.
According to Chicago police, in 2018, there was one incident. In 2019, one incident, but then it jumped to 16 incidents in 2020. 13 incidents involved guns, two involved knives or sharp objects, and three had the rideshare driver physically overpowered without a weapon involved. There's a cluster on the west side, a smaller amount on the south side, and a few others.
UBER and Lyft both say, they're working with police to keep drivers safe, pointing out that both platforms have technologies which can track rides and allow for drivers and riders to request real time emergency help. But what about those phantom profiles? Lyft says, it encourages all riders to upload a photo and that drivers can view the rider's name and rating before choosing to accept the ride. UBER saying it "continues to implement new processes and technology to identify and prevent user fraud."
SUZETTE WRIGHT: I would like to know who's getting in the back of my car.
JASON KNOWLES: Police say, all drivers and passengers should be suspicious of criminals, which may tap your bumper intentionally trying to get drivers to stop. Always keep doors locked while driving and your phone close so you can make a fast call to 9-1-1.