Police seek man who posed as Uber driver, attacked woman

Posted at 9:21 AM, Aug 27, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) -- Atlanta police investigating a woman's report that she was sexually assaulted by an Uber driver say they now believe the suspect posed as a driver to lure her into his car, the most recent of several attacks by phony Uber drivers around the nation.

Within the past 12 months, police in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Orlando, Florida, have issued alerts to warn residents about people pretending to be Uber drivers and preying on unsuspecting customers.

The 20-year-old woman told officers she was leaving the Park Bench Pub on Atlanta's north side about 2:30 a.m. Aug. 13 when she contacted Uber to get a ride home, police said.

The woman told officers that instead of taking her home, the driver took her to Chastain Park, about 2 miles away, and assaulted her. Police say the driver eventually pushed her out of the car after she fought back.

Atlanta police Sgt. Warren Pickard told reporters at a news conference Thursday that some Uber drivers wait outside bars anticipating that people will need rides, much like taxis do.

"He just generally picked up on that methodology and it just so happened that she got into the car," Pickard said.

Similar cases have been reported in several cities, including Los Angeles, where a man in April was arrested and accused of luring a woman into his SUV, and then raping her and choking her until she became unconscious.

The woman fought back and was choked unconscious at least three times before she managed to scream loud enough to alert neighbors, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said.

In Washington, D.C., police warned residents to be on guard after a woman on Oct. 10 entered a silver sedan, "which she mistook as an Uber car," the Metropolitan Police Department's alert states. The driver had a knife, and sexually assaulted her, police said in the statement.

Within the past week, University of Florida police warned students that a man in a Chevy Malibu with Uber stickers on the car has been soliciting rides around campus. The driver, who is not affiliated with Uber, "is specifically targeting female students," police said in a statement on Sunday, warning students to be vigilant about their safety. University police said they knew of no criminal activity, but asked that anyone with information about the driver contact them.

Uber advises that customers take several steps to ensure that their driver is an actual Uber driver, a company spokeswoman said in a Friday statement to The Associated Press.

Riders are advised to only ride with drivers they request through the Uber app, not by flagging down cars. Before the trip begins, customers also should double check the vehicle's license plate, the driver's name and photo to make sure they match the information they receive through the app when requesting a ride, the statement said.

Customers may also share details during the trip with family and friends, such as their estimated time of arrival and specific route, Uber said in the statement.