Over a dozen people have been charged by the Justice Department with running ride-hailing and delivery apps scams. An alleged scam ring allegedly created fake accounts using stolen personal information, then sold those accounts to otherwise unqualified drivers – while collecting referral bonuses and developing software to trick the apps.
The indictment revealed Friday adds to wire fraud allegations first reported in May. 14 people – all Brazilian nationals and most of whom live in Massachusetts – are accused of identity theft against five unnamed companies. (Prosecutors filed wire fraud charges against 19 individuals, and 16 have been arrested.) The wire fraud charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while the aggravated identity theft charges carry at least 2 years in prison.
ALCOHOL ORDERS WERE USED AS AN EXCUSE TO SCAN DRIVER’S LICENSES
According to court documents, the fraud involved bots, GPS spoofing, social security numbers purchased on dark websites, and stolen driver’s licenses. Despite not naming the apps in question, the complaint’s details closely resemble those reported by Instacart and Amazon Flex, among others.
The group allegedly told customers (falsely) that they had to scan their driver’s licenses when delivering alcohol between January 2019 and April 2021. Prosecutors claim defendants altered the license photos, paired them with other personal information, and opened accounts that they could sell or rent to drivers. They also allegedly helped the group collect referral bonuses that could reach $1,000 – one message shows a delivery company paid $194,800 after receiving referrals for 487 fake accounts.
The conspiracy allegedly expanded after the group bought software to rent to drivers, allowing them to spoof locations to make trips appear longer or automatically snag orders through bots. The group advertised its fake accounts to Brazilians in Massachusetts, according to an affidavit. The report doesn’t specify who bought the accounts, but many ride-hailing and delivery workers are undocumented immigrants who might have difficulties meeting application requirements.
By using software tools, people can circumvent opaque and exploitative features, like DoorDash hiding tips from workers. But these tools (typically) do not come with a side of identity theft – and bots and hackers are a well-known menace to workers and customers alike.