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Police fears over Uber ID glitch after rapist impersonated another driver

The Age logo The Age 4 days ago Erin Pearson

Police warn Uber passengers that they are at risk from unscreened drivers bypassing the rideshare operator's photo ID technology to work under other people's accounts.

The vulnerabilities of Uber's security was exposed when unauthorised Uber driver Manpreet Singh pleaded guilty in the Victorian County Court to raping an intoxicated woman he drove back to his house.

A customer checking their Uber booking. © Emily Berl A customer checking their Uber booking. Uber drivers are prompted to pose for a verification “selfie” every time they get into the car to work.

But police sources have told The Age that scammers are getting around the system’s log-on technology by simply holding up a photograph of the registered account holder.

They say that some authorised ride-share drivers are using the flaw in the technology to run illegal rackets, connecting one account to as many as 10 vehicles and paying a string of employees, many foreign nationals, in cash.

Some rogue drivers are even turning to online forums to explain how to beat the selfie rule.

“It’s rife,” one person said.

Victoria Police has received a string of complaints from concerned young women about suspect Uber drivers, ranging from minor indiscretions to sexual assault.

On Wednesday, Singh was jailed for at least three years and four months.

The court heard the 28-year-old Indian national had been out picking up passengers in a silver 2010 Holden Commodore, which was registered with Uber under another man’s account, when he saw his victim walking in the rain through Richmond after a 2018 Christmas party before she slumped to the ground.

Singh then drove her more than 20 kilometres away to his Mulgrave share house where he raped her in his bedroom.

Singh was using an A4 photograph of the registered driver's face to bypass the test and may have been doing so since 2016.

His victim managed to escape the home at 5am, after regaining consciousness, and ran to find help.

Across Australia, there are 3.8 million regular Uber riders and more than 60,000 active driver-partners.

a close up of a light: A woman uses a rideshare app. © Adam Berry A woman uses a rideshare app. When contacted about the issue of passenger safety, a spokeswoman from Uber said they were unable to say how many registered drivers  - if any - had been removed from the platform for breaching guidelines or for fraudulent behaviour.

But they said an in-app emergency button had been rolled out to passengers across Australia alongside the option to share your trip details with another person.

“We also provide driver photos in the app so riders can confirm it’s the right person picking them up. If the driver doesn’t match the photo, report it to Uber right away so we can take action," the Uber spokeswoman said.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said if passengers start to fear their driver, they should get out of the car as soon as possible or call triple zero for immediate help from police.

They also said it was never too late to report sexual assault.

"While passengers can report any concerns about fraudulent activity or driver behaviour directly to the ride-share company, it’s important that any suspected criminal offending is also reported to police so the incident is recorded and an investigation can be conducted," she said. 

In sentencing Singh on Wednesday, Judge Peter Lauritsen said it was likely the "unregistered Uber driver", who was on a bridging visa at the time of the rape, would be deported back to India after he serves out his jail term.

He sentenced Singh to five years and six months jail with a non-parole period of three years and four months.

“My sentence is a public denunciation of your offending,” he said.

Singh has already spent 275 days in custody.

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