The murder of Samantha Josephson has focused attention on the importance of safety for those using ride share apps
With her eyes on her phone, University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson slipped into the back of a shiny black car without hesitation, thinking it was the Uber she had ordered to drive her home after a night out with friends. But that car, according to police, belonged to a killer.
Josephson, 21, was reported missing early Friday morning, and on Saturday, was found dead by turkey hunters in a woods more than 90 minutes from where she was last seen. Police have accused Nathaniel Rowland, 24, with kidnapping and murdering Josephson, alleging he was behind the wheel of the car the New Jersey woman mistakenly entered.
Rowland, 24, who has yet to plead to the kidnapping and murder charges he faces. He is being held without bail and PEOPLE was unable to determine if he has retained a lawyer.
The tragedy has focused attention on the importance of safety for those using ride sharing apps. PEOPLE spoke with automotive expert Lauren Fix, who is also known as The Car Coach, about precautions people using ride sharing apps should take.
1. Match License Plate Number of Car with App
Fix said that in surveillance footage showing Josephson entering Rowland’s Chevrolet Impala, the victim doesn’t appear to look at the car or its license plate.
“You must look at the picture of the car on the app, and match the license plate with the one the app provides you with,” Fix tells PEOPLE. “Always double check the license plate.”
Fix recommends customers try to memorize the four digits of their driver’s plate number as soon as the app books them a ride.
2. Ask ‘Who Are You Waiting For?’
Fix says riders should confirm the driver is the one assigned by the app.
“Never ask, ‘Are you my ride?,'” she explains. “When I approach an Uber or a Lyft, I will stand next to the driver’s window, and I will ask them, ‘Who are you waiting for?’ This way, they have to give you a name.”
Uber’s launched a public awareness campaign in 2017 aimed at preventing people from getting into the wrong car.
“If the information doesn’t match up, do not get into the car,” an article on the company’s website states. “Go to a safe place and wait for the right car to arrive, or cancel the ride and report it to us. In an emergency or if you feel threatened, contact police immediately and inform us of the incident when it’s safe to do so.”
3. Look at Photo on App
Fix also recommends matching the photo of the driver on the app with the person driving, because “once you’re in that car, there’s no turning back.”
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She reminds ride-share app users “not everybody is bad,” but says “the bad ones are the issue.”
4. Wait for Your Ride Indoors
Uber’s website provides additional tips for users, suggesting users wait for their ride indoors.
“Avoid spending unnecessary time outside alone with your phone in your hand,” the website states. “Instead, wait indoors until the app shows your driver has arrived.”
5. Don’t Reveal Personal Details
Uber advises against sharing your phone number or other contact information with a driver.
“If a rider and driver need to contact each other, the Uber app automatically anonymizes both phone numbers to protect everyone’s privacy,” the website states.
6. Ride in the Backseat
Uber recommends riders ride in the backseat and not the front.
“This ensures you can safely exit on either side of the vehicle to avoid moving traffic, and it gives you and your driver some personal space,” the website states.
7. Share Trip Details With A Friend
Riders are allowed to share their trip details by tapping “Share status” in the app, which shares a driver’s name, photo, license plate and location.
This enables a friend to “track your trip and see your ETA without downloading the Uber app,” the company’s website states.
8. Rate Your Driver
Fix recommends rating drivers, which allows these services to weed out potentially dangerous drivers. She recommends being respectful to drivers so your own rating is good.
Uber says feedback on drivers “helps us improve the Uber experience for everyone. Our 24/7 global support team reviews feedback and will follow up with appropriate action on any reports of conduct that violate our community guidelines.