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These women say they were raped by fake Uber drivers. Now they’re suing the company.

(Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

The woman just wanted to get home safely.

She had been attending a social gathering in Los Angeles on Dec. 20, 2017, where she had consumed alcohol. After being separated from her friends, she decided to call an Uber to take her home. After all, that was the responsible thing to do, she thought. A car pulled up, and she got in. But she noticed something odd, according to court documents: The license plates did not match the Uber ride. Her driver claimed he had damaged his car and had not updated the app with his new information.

That is when her actual Uber driver called, irritated, saying she had bailed on him. He hung up on her.

The woman had actually gotten into the car of a man named Nicolas Morales, who was later accused in 2018 of raping or assaulting eight women in Los Angeles by posing as their Uber drivers. He abducted and raped her, according to court documents.

The woman, named only in court documents as “Jane Doe 2,” is one of three who have filed a lawsuit against Uber Technologies in Los Angeles Superior Court. The lawsuit alleges the ride-hailing app left them “sitting ducks” to men in Los Angeles who posed as Uber drivers to sexually assault female passengers. It also suggests Uber knew fake drivers were preying on women but did nothing to warn customers.

The lawsuit was filed Friday, just a week after a college student in South Carolina was picked up by a car she mistook for an Uber, whose driver, police say, killed her and left her body in a field.

Two other women, named as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 3, say they were also raped in separate incidents by a man who they believed had been the Uber drivers they called to take them home from Los Angeles-area nightclubs. Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 3 were said to have been raped by a man named Walter Velasquez, who was recently sentenced to eight years in prison after posing as an Uber driver to assault women.

The complaint alleges Uber knew about fake drivers preying on women around Los Angeles as early as 2016 and that the Los Angeles Police Department or sheriff’s department had contacted the ride-hailing service about the problem. But the complaint says “it intentionally withheld this information” from the women and “did nothing to warn" them of danger.

FEM Law Group, which is representing the women, declined to comment on the case.

Uber would not comment on the lawsuit, but said in a statement to The Washington Post it had been working to inform riders of potential risk.

“We have been working with local law enforcement, including the LAPD, about how to avoid fake rideshare drivers for several years," the statement said. “We launched a national campaign to remind riders to make sure they get in the right car by checking the information, like the license plate and car make and model, shown in the app. These important reminders have been part of our safety tips, and our law enforcement team regularly discusses this issue with agencies across the country.”

To prevent customers from getting in the wrong car, Uber has cautioned riders to wait inside rather than stand on the street with their cellphones open and to check the license plates and driver photos of their assigned ride against the drivers who come to get them. The company said it had worked with Los Angeles law enforcement as well as bars in the city to prevent dangerous mistakes.

The LAPD declined to comment on the case or on Uber’s involvement with law enforcement.

The ride-hailing company, as well as similar services like Lyft, is facing increased scrutiny in recent weeks after the death of Samantha Josephson, a 21-year-old college senior who called an Uber to take her home from a bar in Columbia, S.C., but got into the wrong car. Authorities have charged 24-year-old Nathaniel D. Rowland with kidnapping and killing her.

Her death made national headlines and prompted calls for the companies to increase their safety features. South Carolina’s legislature passed a bill on Tuesday that would require Uber and Lyft drivers to display illuminated signs that clearly identify them.

After Josephson’s death, Uber said it would issue another public safety awareness campaign called “Check Your Ride” and would publicize safety tips on social media, in college papers and within the app. It also said it would send “Check Your Ride” reminders to customers as they were being picked up.

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