Criminals are carrying out a disturbing trend where they are using ride-sharing vehicles to abduct minors, according to one of the nation’s top law enforcement agencies.
"It's affected my school life, my friends, my family," one 15-year-old girl who was a victim of an attempted abduction said in 2019, according to ABC News. "It's had such a negative impact on me. Everywhere I go, I feel scared because I'm so much more aware of my surroundings now."
The teenager recounted that she had frequently used ride-sharing services in the New York area, but in the summer of 2019, an Uber driver picked her up and tried to abduct her. The Nassau County District Attorney's Office said at the time that the driver tried to force her to go to her home, "where he intended to sexually assault her."
Now, the FBI is warning that similar incidents have become a "trend," and issued a public service announcement making Americans aware.
"Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement received several reports of rideshare services being used to facilitate child abduction," the FBI said last month in the PSA, the Hill reported.
The federal agency warned that the criminals are using ride-sharing vehicles due to the "lower likelihood of detection and ease of facilitation."
"While other modes of transportation were used during the pandemic, the privacy of ride-share services allowed criminal actors to obfuscate potential witness identification and afforded them direct transportation," the FBI stated.
The FBI specifically pointed to one incident this year, when a 16-year-old Texas boy who requested an Uber ride found himself abducted. The teenager had ordered an Uber for a roughly 20-mile trip in April and was allegedly offered something to drink during the ride. The boy woke up later that day at a home 31 miles away from his destination. He fled the property to a nearby home and alerted authorities.
In another case cited by the FBI, a child was abducted in Mexico City in February when the 7-year-old boy’s father asked a ride-share driver to make a pit stop at a flower stand. The father exited the vehicle and the driver left with the young boy. The child was recovered after he called his mom from the car.
Car-share services have exploded in popularity over the last decade. Even though Uber and Lyft ban people under the age of 18 from having their own accounts or from riding in car shares without a guardian, some still get around the rules by using an adult’s account.
"I know a lot of drivers who’ve faced outraged parents," Larry Duncan, a Lyft driver in Bowling Green, Kentucky, told Vox in 2019. "They yell and scream for you to give their kids a ride, and what some of us try to do, we say that the parent can ride with the kid, but they can’t be alone."
A study in 2019 found that many parents were concerned about their kids taking ride-share services alone, citing a bevy of reasons such as teens not wearing seatbelts or the driver being distracted by their phone or speeding.
One of the top concerns, was that the minors would be sexually assaulted by a driver, according to the 2019 Ipsos Public Affairs study. Nearly 80% of parents of daughters were worried their child would face assault, while 55% of parents worried the same could happen to their sons.
"Safety is paramount to the Uber experience and the report outlined by the FBI is extremely concerning," an Uber spokesperson told Fox News Digital when approached for comment on the FBI's PSA. "We are always working to build features and policies designed with safety in mind, which is why we’ve introduced many safety features into the app, like the Emergency Button; Live Help from a Safety Agent; Text-to-911 capability (where available); and GPS tracking on every trip. We also aim to do our part to raise awareness of these societal issues through education to help drivers spot the signs of human trafficking and report it."
The spokesperson also noted that all drivers undergo "background checks on the federal, state and local level," and that riders "must provide valid phone numbers, email addresses, and payment methods in order to use the platform – which is more than many other forms of transportation require."
"We know our work on safety is never done, and we’re committed to always working to raise the bar."
Experts have also warned that teenagers are often more timid about speaking up if something feels off during their ride.
"Teens may feel awkward or inhibited to speak up if they notice a driver is not driving safely or if something does ‘not feel right’ about the car or the driver," pediatrician and co-director of the 2019 poll Gary Freed told the Detroit Free Press. "Parents should empower their teens to feel comfortable to speak out or refuse a ride. They should be reminded that they are getting into a vehicle with someone they do not know, and that it is essential for them be especially attentive to anything that may risk their safety."
The FBI is calling on anyone who sees suspicious behavior to report it to local authorities immediately.
Lyft did not respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment on the FBI's PSA.