Smugglers hiring good drivers to rent cars for criminal acts
Tucson man’s SUV used twice for human smuggling
TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - People who list their cars on rental apps, say their vehicles are being used to commit crimes, including human smuggling. A Tucson man says his SUV was impounded by Border Patrol twice in recent months before agents arrested the driver.
For three years, Fareed Alshami has rented a small fleet of vehicles to people using Turo. Right now, his 2013 Mercedes SUV is at the auto shop, again, after he says smugglers damaged it in the desert.
“On the same vehicle it’s happened twice. The first time it took two months to get the vehicle back. The second time it took about three months to get the car back,” said Alshami. “It’s very frustrating in that sense.”
In addition to his tiny home business, Alshami earns income off the Turo platform. But last October, and again in February, he says his SUV was used for criminal activity near Sonoita.
“The rental goes fine for the first few days, until it’s time to get it back. All of a sudden, it’s like oh no, something happened, and it’s never them. It’s always that a family member took their vehicle. And they used it for illicit purposes,” said Alshami. “I always hear the story afterwards, unfortunately. They are smuggling people.”
Agents confirm criminals are targeting peer-to-peer rentals, because it appears as a personal vehicle, and possibly less conspicuous when authorities run the license plates.
Criminals are even hiring people with clean driving records to rent cars, only to hand them over to smugglers.
”Pay attention to who you rent vehicles to. Even though peer to peer rental companies say that they have strict guidelines of who’s going to rent their vehicles. But there’s still people who are going to do bad things with them,” said agent Jesus Vasavilbaso.
A CBP Facebook page shows dozens of recent busts involving rental cars, including national rental chains, and the awkward and sometimes dangerous conditions desperate people are placed in by so-called load drivers.
“They put the lives of the migrants in danger. There are no seatbelts, sometimes they overload them,” said Vasavilbaso. “And there are instances where they will not stop for any law enforcement.”
Turo would not provide statistics about the prevalence of vehicles used by smugglers. Turo’s communications team emailed us this statement:
“We are aware of incidents where guests violated our policy by giving their vehicles to unauthorized individuals. We acted promptly by restricting their access to our platform and collaborating with the host and law enforcement to recover the vehicle while covering the host’s associated expenses.”
“I do think their vetting process needs some work. That being said, I don’t know how they could improve it quite yet,” said Alshami.
We also reached out to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to see if they’ve fielded complaints about Turo, and whether the company is on their radar. The AG’s communications director emailed us this statement:
“Consumer complaints are confidential, and I am unable to comment on potential complaints regarding any particular entity. As a general matter, however, our office always encourages people to file a complaint if they believe they have been a victim of consumer fraud.”
To file a complaint click here.
Here is the full statement Turo provided:
”We are aware of incidents where guests violated our policy by giving their vehicles to unauthorized individuals. We acted promptly by restricting their access to our platform and collaborating with the host and law enforcement to recover the vehicle while covering the host’s associated expenses. We take these matters very seriously and want to assure the public that our Trust and Safety team is fully committed to addressing criminal behavior on our platform and promptly reporting any suspicious activity or accounts to law enforcement authorities. Hosts can also feel confident they are covered under the Turo protection plan of their choosing, plus each trip is backed by $750K in auto liability policies.”
You can watch more of Rebecca Taylor’s interview with Fareed Alshami who says smugglers rented cars from him and used them for human trafficking at this link: https://www.kold.com/2023/06/20/web-extra-smugglers-hiring-good-drivers-rent-cars-criminal-acts/
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