The following public service announcement was issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Internet Crime Complaint Center on Tuesday, October, 25, 2022.
The FBI warns the public and rideshare companies of criminal actors leveraging rideshare vehicles to abduct minor victims, due to the lower likelihood of detection and ease of facilitation. Although this is a rare occurrence, the FBI is providing notification due to the high impact of such events. Further, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it appeared these actors believed rideshare services afforded them more privacy than traditional modes of transportation, and mask and social distancing requirements provided added privacy.
Criminal actors use rideshare services to facilitate child abduction as they are more direct, easy to book, and have less stringent driver and passenger security protocols than other forms of transportation, resulting in a lower likelihood of detection than other modes of transportation. Criminal actors used various modes of transportation to transport or abduct their victims during the pandemic; threat actors were not apprehended while using rideshare vehicles, but were arrested in connection with use of other modes of transportation or facilities. Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement received several reports of rideshare services being used to facilitate child abduction. While other modes of transportation were used during the pandemic, the privacy of rideshare services allowed criminal actors to obfuscate potential witness identification and afforded them direct transportation. Further, criminal actors benefit from past and current pandemic guidance, such as mask wearing and social distancing in rideshare vehicles, as it provides additional security.
The FBI identified a trend of criminal actors using rideshare vehicles to abduct minor victims. The following are illustrative examples:
- In April 2022, a 16-year-old boy requested a rideshare trip from Portland, Oregon, to Rockport, Texas. During his ride, the rideshare driver offered him a drink and the boy later woke up inside of a home in Sinton, Texas, approximately 20 miles in the opposite direction of Rockport. The boy walked to a nearby home and called for help. Law enforcement later arrested the rideshare driver.
- In February 2021, an adult male in Colorado met a minor victim on social media and groomed her to send child sexual exploitation material (CSAM). The male flew to California and persuaded the minor to sneak out of her residence at 2:00 a.m. to enter a rideshare vehicle. The rideshare vehicle transported them to the airport, where they boarded a plane to Washington, DC. During their travel, the adult male forced the victim to pretend to be mute and wear a wig in order to avoid detection. The victim was recovered and police apprehended her abductor at the airport during their layover. The adult male was charged with child abduction, soliciting CSAM from a minor, and meeting the minor for sex.
- In February 2022, in Mexico City, a father traveled in a rideshare vehicle with his 7-year-old son and asked the driver to stop at a flower stand. When the father exited the vehicle to make a purchase, the rideshare driver drove off with the boy. The boy found a way to call his mother and provided his location. The parents recovered the boy safely, chased, and eventually stopped the rideshare driver from escaping, where he was arrested.
If you observe suspicious behavior involving child abduction, please report the incident to law enforcement immediately. If you or someone you know is a child/young adult and the target or victim of an abduction, which involved the use of a rideshare vehicle or other mode of transportation:
- Contact your local law enforcement agency or your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at www.fbi.gov)
- File a complaint online with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov
- Victims are encouraged to keep all original documentation, emails, text messages, and logs of communication with the subject. Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it; and
Tell law enforcement everything about the online encounters - it may be embarrassing for the parent or child, but it is necessary to find the offender. Be as descriptive as possible in the complaint form by providing:
- Name and/or user name of the subject
- Email addresses and telephone numbers used by the subject
- Web sites used by the subject
- Description of all interaction with the subject
It is helpful for law enforcement to have as much information as possible to use while investigating these incidents; however, it is not required in order to receive assistance.
The FBI produced this public service announcement to increase awareness of rideshare services used as a method by criminal actors in targeting minors for child abduction.