When a woman got into a Toyota Camry in Boston earlier this month after a friend arranged a ride-sharing service for her, the driver said the trip would cost $20 and drove the woman to an ATM because she did not have cash, a police report said.
Police say that request should have raised an alarm.
“If a driver asks for cash, that’s a red flag,” said Jeremy Warnick, a Cambridge police spokesman. “These ride-sharing services . . . don’t require cash.”
After the trip to the ATM, police allege that the driver, Alejandro Done, 46, of Boston, beat the woman, began to strangle her, locked the doors, and sexually assaulted her in the rear of the vehicle. The woman reported to Cambridge police that she had been attacked Dec. 6.
That incident and separate reports from three other women who said they were indecently assaulted early Sunday in Boston after hailing a ride via the Uber smartphone application has led authorities to warn people about drivers who might be posing as employees of ride-sharing services.
“It’s definitely an issue,” said Boston police Lieutenant Michael McCarthy, a department spokesman.
Uber customers are provided with their driver’s name, photo, car type, license plate number, and a telephone number in advance so they can verify who is picking them up, said Taylor Bennett, a spokesman for the ride-sharing service.
Customers can contact drivers and pay for the ride with a credit card using the mobile application.
The drivers involved in the three indecent assaults reported in Boston have not been identified, McCarthy said, and it is not known whether the assailants were Uber drivers.
Earlier this week, Bennett said the company had no evidence that an Uber driver was involved in the Boston assaults.
Meghan V. Joyce, the general manager of Uber Boston, said the company wants to partner with the city to prevent ride-sharing customers from being picked up by rogue drivers.
“We’re very concerned with illegal street hails,” she said.
During a Thursday meeting of the city’s Taxi Advisory Committee, Joyce said it was feasible for Uber cars to be marked, which could help with safety concerns. The company has stickers for drivers to display, but they are optional.
In Cambridge, Warnick said that officials so far have not received many reports of illegal street hails and called the case involving Done “unique.”
When using one of the ride-sharing apps, “you know what particular car is coming to pick up you and when you’re going to be picked up,” Warnick said. “That should mitigate any issues of a random car picking you up.”
Done worked for Uber through its uberX service, a lower-cost option in which drivers use their own vehicles, Bennett said. He passed a background check that included court records, driving history, sex offender registries, and Social Security traces going back seven years, he said.
The night of the alleged attack, Done recorded two ride-sharing trips in Boston: a drop-off at 120 Tremont St. at 7:36 p.m. and a pick-up near 152 Huntington Avenue at 10:39 p.m., according to a police report filed in Cambridge District Court.
The woman who reported the sexual assault got into Done’s car at 170 Tremont St. after 7:30 p.m. when a friend hired a ride-sharing service to take her home, the report said. It does not specify which ride-service the friend contacted. Bennett and a spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, who is prosecuting Done, declined to say who the friend hired.
The woman was taken to an ATM on Stuart Street before she was allegedly assaulted in a location the woman did not recognize, the report said. Done later drove the woman home, the report said.
Ryan’s office said it is unclear whether Done used information he accessed through Uber to target the woman.
Done pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of rape, assault to rape, kidnapping, and assault and battery, said his lawyer Bruce Ferg. Done is being held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing Dec. 24.
Ferg said he is not aware of Done having a criminal record.
Governor Deval Patrick is pushing to provide state oversight of Uber and its competitor Lyft with a proposal to have the services regulated by the state Department of Public Utilities.
The plan is expected to require strict background checks for drivers, said Cyndi Roy Gonzalez, a MassDOT spokeswoman.
“Our first priority . . . is making sure that the public that’s utilizing any of our transportation modes in the Commonwealth [is] safe,” she said.
Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.