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Sexual assault cases tied to car-sharing services such as Uber Technologies Inc. have triggered calls by law enforcement for increased customer vigilance, especially when drivers suggest a detour or demand cash.
The alleged rape of a woman in Boston earlier this month by an Uber driver followed his request to stop at a cash machine, police said, a red flag since Uber’s app uses credit cards.
Driver Alejandro Done, 46, of Cambridge, picked up a young woman Dec. 6, took her to the ATM, and then drove her to a secluded area and raped her, police said. He pleaded not guilty in state court.
It was one of at least three alleged sexual assaults in the area over the past month involving ride-sharing drivers, police said. Two of them allegedly worked for Uber, victims said, according to James Kenneally, a Boston police spokesman.
The incidents have prompted Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan to warn ride-sharing customers to confirm the car they get into is the one they ordered. Ryan urged passengers to beware drivers asking them to do something which goes against company policy.
“This alleged predator took advantage of a young woman who trusted that he was who he portrayed himself to be, and exploited her vulnerability once he had her in his car,” Ryan said.
Uber is the most highly valued U.S. technology startup. It raised $1.2 billion this month at a valuation of $40 billion. On Wednesday, Chinese Web company Baidu Inc. said it had invested in Uber, which is led by Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick.
But the firm’s problems have been snowballing in recent weeks, with allegations of sexual assault and dangerous driving, as well as regulatory roadblocks and legal challenges worldwide.
Uber has been sued by officials in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, over claims it makes false assurances about driver background checks or violates other local laws. A judge in Spain banned it from operating there, and Rio de Janeiro declared it illegal. The Netherlands halted ride-sharing service UberPop.
Earlier this month, one of its drivers in New Delhi was accused of raping a woman. In San Francisco, an Uber driver was charged in the killing a 6-year-old girl crossing a city street last New Year’s eve.
Facing criticism of its driver-screening process, Uber has said it began an assessment of its safety programs in November.
The San Francisco-based company said its review will determine where greater investment in safety is required, including possible improvements in technology, background checks and incident-response teams to offer support.
In the Boston rape case, police said they identified the defendant as the driver of the car through company records. It wasn’t known whether he used information he gained through his position as an Uber driver to target the victim, police said.
Done was arraigned in Cambridge District Court and is scheduled to appear in court again Dec. 24. Bruce Ferg, a lawyer for Done, declined to comment on the case.
Uber has cooperated with the Boston investigation, police and prosecutors said.
“This is a despicable crime and our thoughts and prayers are with the victim during her recovery,” Kaitlin Durkosh, a spokeswoman for Uber, said in an e-mail.
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