(NewsNation) — What was once an easy side hustle is getting more dangerous by the mile.
Violent rideshare robberies are becoming a growing trend around our country as criminals order a Lyft or Uber then rob, beat — and in some cases, kill the driver.
Law enforcement says the brazen crimes have accelerated in some cases because of social media and the FBI tells NewsNation that there are multiple factors fueling this.
In the past months, federal and local authorities have issued warnings on the dangers rideshare drivers can face. In some instances attacks have been violent and even fatal.
The beatings, strangling and even biting are being captured at an alarming rate on rideshare dashcams.
Recent carjackings have been deliberate with some criminals creating fake profiles to lure drivers in and then attack them, either robbing them or, worse, killing them to make off with their cars.
NewsNation spoke exclusively with one rideshare driver in Houston who refused to give up his car. The encounter was caught on a dash cam. The criminals were just teenagers and put a gun to the driver’s head before he fought back.
“One of them tried to grab my phone, the other put a gun to my head,” the driver said. “When I refused to give them my phone, they tried to pull me out. I pushed the gas pedal and started driving off.”
NewsNation tracked down that driver. He says while he’s currently a specialist in the U.S. Army Reserves, it was pure instinct, not weapons training on display that afternoon inside his Camry.
“I just kept driving,” he said. “Then lucky for me he does decide to get out from the car. He just jumped out of a moving car.”
After a carjacking in Florida rideshare criminals quickly turn on responding deputies.
A Volusia County canine was shot in the face. A second canine was shot too before the passenger-turned-suspect was taken down.
Police do not advise fighting back as not everyone has had luck on their side. A rideshare driver was killed while trying to save up money for veterinary school in central Illinois. Another driver in Charlotte, North Carolina, was shot multiple times, and then forced to continue driving.
“Every time I close my eyes I still hear the gunshots because even if I don’t react or show it, I was…I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared in my life,” the driver said of the incident haunting him.
Liz Hilton of Missouri knows the danger drivers face all too well. She convinced Elijah Newman, her friend of 20 years, to move his rideshare gig to her hometown of St. Louis. In just three weeks, he was dead.
“It’s like I put him on a death sentence,” Hilton said. “I mean, there’s really no other way grounded. I wish I could have told him more.”
Newman, a father of five from Ghana, was killed on the same road a carjacking went unsolved just weeks before.
“It’s steadily escalating,” the FBI agent told NewsNation.
He is just one of the special agents nationwide working on these violent robberies, but stealing a vehicle he says isn’t the only motive at work here.
“It is also getting fueled through social media,” he said. “Some people are creating challenges.”
A NewsNation investigation discovered the suspects in these cases are young.
The majority are in their teens like the 16 and 17-year-olds charged with murdering a Lyft driver saving for veterinary school in Urbana, Illinois.
A juvenile was among those under arrest in the shooting of Uber driver Anthony Facey in January in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Yelling over me while I’m talking to dispatch,” Facey said. “No, no, no, nothing’s wrong with him. He just got grazed you don’t have to send anybody.”
The FBI has put out a warning to drivers alerting that criminals are using fake profiles and drivers should verify in screen riders.
Driver safety has been on the radar at Uber and Lyft for years.
Just this fall Uber tested a feature in three U.S. cities that will record video and audio on every trip. For privacy, however, it’s only viewable if the driver uploads it.
Lyft tells NewsNation they are continuously investing in new features and policies to help protect drivers and are committed to working with law enforcement to prevent these incidents for I’m happening.
For many, like the U.S. Army Reservist in Houston, who’s saw a teenager arrested in his case, the inherently dangerous job will continue after the like few days.
“After the like few days,” he said. “I started driving again.”
He’ll do so with this urgent warning, while the vehicle is the livelihood, the life of the driver is paramount.