To our shock, not only did Uber clear our mole driver with a fake insurance and vehicle registration but they accepted over four different versions of these fake documents.
While Uber and their pundits are not the sharpest people compared to other confidence and pyramid scams I’ve dealt with, they have much more PR spin capital and a relentless will to use it.
At each and every stage of uncovering conclusive evidence that Uber technologies is actively promoting and profiting from insurance and consumer fraud, the company has been able to shrug it off and continue winning the hearts and minds of customers, media outlets and politicians on every side of the spectrum around the globe.
On the municipal level, Uber was unable to win support in Madison.
However with the support of the walker administration, Republican Majority leaders in the state senate and assembly, The Koch industries lobbying front Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and even some Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly, Uber lobbyists were successful in handing off two scripted pieces of legislation which entirely supplanted municipal transportation regulations state wide.
Senate Bill 106 and Assembly Bill 143 grant Uber and other TNCs (Transportation Network Company) the ability to operate state wide in Wisconsin with with virtually none of the regulatory oversight that Taxi Cab companies are mandated too and absolutely no municipal oversight.
The passage of both bills fit a common theme of commercial deregulation and consumer protections deconstruction that the Walker administration has practiced regularly in the legislative process.
Not long after the passage of 106 and 143, I was inspired to do a deeper investigation of Uber to test a theory about the background check and driver application process the company uses.
Using Uber’s own driver application process, an individual would apply to be an Uber driver using the company’s online and app based application process. Fake insurance and registration documents would be uploaded to Uber along with the individual’s actual driver’s license. It took some time to find the right individual to volunteer for this but last month I found a person willing.
Over three weeks we submitted four different fake insurance and registration documents.
**Portions have been covered in order to protect the identity of the mole driver.**
The documents did not look real to the naked eye and contained several discrepancies that would be simple to detect for anyone actually looking. Despite the obvious lack in veracity of the documents and deception in their content, Uber accepted them and the individual applying as a fully certified Uber driver.
Uber did not even inspect or ask for pictures of the vehicle listed on the fake documents. Though a vehicle did exist, is was not in working order and had been out of registration for months before the application was submitted.
At any point during the application process, any one of the uber techs who spoke with the individual applying or myself could have easily checked either of the fake plate numbers we provided with Wisconsin’s free public DOT plate search service. The service requires no registration or payment to use and takes under 15 seconds to enter and be provided results for any plate number listing the vehicle’s make, year and model as well as notification for the plate being in registration or not.
After the driver was activated on Uber, we began a series of test runs to verify that they were in fact activated on the app, available to Uber customers and able to engage rides with customers through the app. We then performed a series of fake ride engagements with volunteer Uber users who knew the driver was registered without proper documentation. The driver canceled each of the ride requests in order to prevent the Users being charged or incriminating themselves as an actual Uber driver.
After our ride request recordings, we decided to have our driver visit the Uber offices at 601 Whitney Way. During this visit the driver wore a recording device. Much of the conversation between the driver and the “operations manager” “Paul” (no last name listed on company profile), was fairly innocent.
However when asked if the driver should contact their own insurance company to advise them of the driver using their vehicle for Uber, Paul became somewhat vague on the subject and referred the driver to a state farm agent who was actually stationed at the Uber office.
State farm is currently offering rideshare drivers an insurance coverage policy that charges the driver a considerable amount more than a standard liability policy while not actually covering their driving as a rideshare and limiting the number of hours they can drive as a rideshare. State farm has yet to provide the public with any hard numbers that these kinds of policies are actually being sold to rideshare drivers in numbers that represent more than a very small percentage. While the conversation with the Operations manager Paul and the State farm agent were only somewhat unnerving for the driver, a conversation picked up on the recording between Paul and another Uber driver in the office beforehand was much more interesting. Apparently this other Uber driver had been allowed to provide more than 500 rides to customers with a vehicle that was not properly registered on the Uber application.
***Recording provided to the Wisconsin DSPS and FTC for further investigation before release***
A near pinch
During the application process in a live chat conversation with Uber techs, I was asked to upload the insurance document to the tech in real time through the chat service so he could verify it. The tech noticed that the Vin number for the vehicle we submitted was different from that of the first version of the fake insurance policy I uploaded.
**From transcript provided by Uber’s online driver tech support chat service**
(08:05:14)Estepenson VL: Great, I have all the information now.
(08:05:36)mole: sooooooooooooo, how long do i have to wait now?
(08:05:45)Estepenson VL: By the way, it looks like the vehicle registration and vehicle insurance didn’t match.
(08:07:05)Estepenson VL: The VIN of the vehicle registered in the registration does not match with the VIN registered in vehicle insurance.
(08:07:51)mole that cant be, it is the same vehicle(08:09:01)Estepenson VL: My apology about the confusion.
(08:10:23)mole: One sec, I just noticed the VIN, it is from my old car, my agent didnt update the VIN on the policy
(08:10:41)mole: Im starting to wonder if anyone ever does their job anymore
(08:10:51)Estepenson VL: Yes, mole.
(08:10:55)mole: ok,… I have to call my insurance agent
(08:11:09)mole: aaaaaand get a new policy update
(08:13:24)Estepenson VL: Yes mole, I will also refer your account to our Advance Team to update the result of your background check status. I see here that it is still on process status and yet you have already received the result.
I thought for certain the next question he would ask is if the policy was fake.
Which he did not. I immediately explained the discrepancy away as our fake insurance agent having forgotten to update the Vin number on a recent policy change from one fake vehicle to another. While the Vin number on the next policy version I provided Uber was for a real vehicle, the registration on the vehicle had been out for nearly a year and also originated in another state with the plate number which was also out of registration. Through out the entire process of dealing with Uber’s online driver tech support chat It was very simple to convince Uber’s tech support with the fake documents. Never once were either myself or the driver questioned as to the documents being fake.
The aftermath and why Uber is stuck using uninsured and fake drivers.
A similar investigation had been done by The Guardian nearly a year ago in Britain.
However that investigation used a currently registered uber driver who uploaded a fake insurance policy as a replacement to his existing one registered on the platform.
The fake insurance document provided was also much better looking than the one we provided.
However Uber obviously did nothing in the way of actually verifying the insurance policy or it’s source. Nor has Uber since remedied the problem or made any public statement that the discrepancy The Guardian investigation discovered would ever be remedied.
Again, this was a year ago.
In our investigation all but the driver’s license were entirely fake and fabricated documents. This investigation took place right here in Madison, Wisconsin.
Uber not only accepted the documents but they made no effort to verify that the insurance company, the insurance policy or the vehicle registration were actually real despite the availability of easy to access and free to use open public records which would have verified any of these documents.
The reason why Uber can not change or this system of driver application or actually verify the documents they are given is because it would force Uber to provide protections and liability for their customers and drivers that the company can not afford. Uber profits by using individuals with their own vehicles and their own liability for operating those vehicles.
It is stated and restated in the agreement terms that the Driver and Customer are waiving their rights to the provision of liability by Uber for the Insurance and safety of the service.
This keeps the insurance policy Uber claims to provide in an easily deniable situation of liability which falls to the drivers and the customers to endure when and if there is an accident or situation that would normally fall to the liability of the transportation provider to cover as with Taxi Cabs, buses, trains, air transportation, water taxis and any other vetted and properly regulated transportation service.
This explains why the majority of Wrecks with uber and other TNC companies like Lyft go uninsured.
The majority of Uber and Lyft drivers also fail to acquire their own commercial insurance to perform rides for hire or even inform their own insurance provider that they are using their own vehicle for commercial purposes as an Uber driver.
Insurance policy terms very clearly indicate that failing to inform your insurance provider of commercial activity with a personal vehicle is a violation of the policy which will entirely invalidate coverage.
Uber advertises the notion of using your own vehicle as a commercial service with their app but they openly discourage and fail to advise drivers that they must either inform their own insurance provider or obtain their own commercial insurance policy in order to maintain proper insurance while driving people for hire.
The rideshare insurance packages offered by companies like state farm also fail to entirely cover drivers while they operate for Uber and other ridesahres.
If Uber drivers were actually aware or considerate of the insurance shortfall with the platform, Uber would lose too many drivers to maintain business and profit.
Uber relies on drivers who are ignorant to the ramifications of driving without insurance or knowingly supply the service without proper insurance for their customers.
This model of business provides a large and irresistible profit margin for Uber. This is why Uber can not and will not change this method of driver application.
This is why Uber has refused to provide service in any city, state or country that has demanded their drivers directly contact and verify contact with their own insurance providers and regulatory bodies before providing services through uber.
In light of the evidence we collected, it is impossible for uber to deny that their platform and method of application is in fact failing to ensure drivers are properly insured or operating vehicles that are properly registered.
The current state law in Wisconsin regarding TNC companies has placed the regulation of these companies with the DSPS (Department of Safety and Professional Services) which must answer for this flaw in the application process with Uber, Lyft and any other TNCs operating in Wisconsin.
It should be within the power of DSPS to require TNC drivers to verify their insurance status and make the proper notifications to their own insurance providers in order to insure actual insurance coverage for their customers.
Either that or yet another piece of legislation passed by the Walker administration should be facing Judicial oversight for the obvious danger it is now putting Wisconsin residents in.
Before Bills 106 and 143 were passed, I provided a full presentation of the dangers these bills presented to each of the state Assembly and Senate members.
I provided clear warnings for things that have since come to pass not only here in Wisconsin but world wide because of the uninsured operations of ridesahre companies. These were not mystic predictions or anecdotes but rather the simple facts of what would and has come to pass as the cause and effect of allowing the uninsured operations of a company with no regard for public safety or proper insurance liability as a means of doing business.
-Justin La Plante, Ridesafemadison.net
Rideshare & Taxi safety resource for the Madison area