Columbus police warn of assaults tied to ridesharing

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Columbus Police say they are looking for a man posing as a ride share driver who is making unwanted sexual advances against unsuspecting women.

Mackenzie, who asked 10TV to not use her last name, says a ride share on August 24 raised her suspicions.

"I was kind of sketched out because it wasn't the same car that was on the app,” Mackenzie said. "I asked him his name and all he said was his name was Muslim and I knew that didn't match up.”

Mackenzie said she told the driver he wasn't her ride and he took off. Now, Columbus Police are wondering if Mackenzie saved herself from becoming a victim.

Police say between August 5 and September 10 at least three women reported they were groped, kissed or subjected to unwanted sexual advances by a man posing as a rideshare driver.

All three crimes happened at around 3: 30 a.m. in neighborhoods east of the Ohio State University campus.

Police say all three victims were waiting for a legitimate ride share service to pick them up.

"He's profiling likely victims and he's seeing people on the sidewalk alone, waiting, maybe have their phone in their hand,” Sgt. Dave Pelphrey with the Columbus Police Sexual Assault Unit said.

Police caution you should never accept a ride share that doesn't match the make and model of the vehicle you're expecting, or call a ride share driver on his or her personal cell phone because it undermines security measures, like GPS tracking.

"If you don't use the dispatch or the technology service available, then nobody knows where you are,” cautioned Sgt. Pelphrey.

Police say if you're riding alone, it may feel more polite to ride in the front seat next to the driver, but police say it's safest to ride in the back where the driver can't touch you or grab you.

Mackenzie said the best way to stay safe when you're catching a ride is to listen to your inner voice.

"For anyone that has even the smallest gut feeling that anything could be going wrong or anything bad is going to happen, I would ask anyway because even if it's rude, it's better to protect yourself,” she said.

Safety Tips for ride services and taxis

  1. Don’t ride up front, no matter what the driver says. Being in the front seat might make the rider more vulnerable and open to an assault.
  2. Wait inside your house or a business until the ride arrives. Being outside and alone might create a condition of exposure leaving oneself open to an assault. This also creates an opportunity for a non–sanctioned driver to prey upon a potential victim.
  3. Do not ride alone if you’re heavily intoxicated. There is safety in numbers and heavy intoxication provides for conditions which could allow someone to be victimized, perhaps without knowledge.
  4. Confirm the driver is who it is supposed to be. Technology can provide driver information and vehicle information. Another car or different driver is not going to be sent for you without your being provided with that information.
  5. Always use the dispatch or technology based service. Do not accept personal cell phone numbers of drivers who promise to pick you up if you call them directly. This undermines safety precautions such as GPS put in place by the companies who operate these services.
  6. Do not share personal information with the driver. A predator will try to gather personal information from you in the course of a casual conversation. Questions such as, “who knows where you are”, and “is there going to be anyone home when you get there”, should be a warning sign for riders.
  7. Trust your instincts. If something does not look right or feel right trust your instinct and seek immediate assistance from a trusted source. If you are already in the vehicle when this feeling of mistrust arises use your cellular telephone to call someone.
  8. Do not give your cell phone to the driver. If the driver asks to see your telephone or offers to assist you with the app, do not give up your phone. This serves to further isolate you from outside assistance and makes you more vulnerable.