Some Maryland parents are warning children are using gift cards to help book ride-share services, including Uber, without permission from mom and dad.
They said the ride-share gift cards allow kids to book and pay for rides without the use of a credit card, a requirement that often limits access to rideshare services for children.
Though Uber policies prohibit drivers from carrying unaccompanied children, a News4 I-Team review showed instances in which drivers did so, even during overnight hours.
With her mother’s permission, the News4 I-Team followed along as a 13-year-old girl booked three rides using Uber gift cards between 12:30 a.m. and 2:15 a.m. on a Saturday in Montgomery County, Maryland. In each of the three cases, Uber drivers allowed the girl to ride unaccompanied by an adult to her destination, including a home on a dimly lit street in Darnestown.
During her second Uber ride, the driver dropped the girl at a Motel 6 in Gaithersburg, even though the girl had requested to be dropped at a 24-hour gas station next door.
The girl said she used a friend’s Uber account to book the rides and provided payment with the gift cards.
Her mother, Sandra Thomas, said the gift cards are vital to keeping the rides secret.
“(The kids) can just go to the grocery store and buy an Uber gift card,” she said. “And you can download the app and be on your way anywhere, anytime.”
Thomas said if the kids were required to use credit cards, they’d more likely have to ask their parents.
“As a parent, I would say children are less likely to have a credit card,” Thomas said. “Most of us I hope aren’t giving our children credit cards.”
During the I-Team review of the early Saturday Uber bookings in Montgomery County, none of the three Uber drivers questioned the girl about her age or whether her parents had approved of the trip.
The I-Team questioned one of the drivers about why he did not decline to pick up the girl. The driver, who declined to provide his full name, said his own school-age daughter uses rideshare services unaccompanied, through her parents’ accounts.
“She’s in high school,” he said. “For me it’s OK.”
Uber said it asks drivers to report situations in which riders are suspected of being underage. The company has a 24-hour customer support to review such reports. The company said it advises drivers to request a driver’s license or ID card from passengers suspected of being underage before starting a trip.
The company also said it alerts parents about controls that can be used to prevent children from downloading apps on their phones without permission.
Statement from Uber:
Our terms, which riders and drivers agree to, explicitly state that anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult to ride with Uber. Also, our Community Guidelines outline the ways someone can lose access to the app - and which clearly state that an account holder must be over 18.
Drivers are asked to report situations where a rider is underage to Uber for further review/investigation by our 24/7 customer support team. Account holders who allow their children to access their accounts risk losing access to Uber.
There are a many safety features built into the app. Every trip is GPS tracked, riders receive the name of the driver and license plate number when they request which is captured in the trip history, riders can share their trip in real time with friends and family, we have a two-way feedback system and 24-7 support. Controls can be implemented that prevent children from downloading apps without permission.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot by Jeff Piper and Steve Jones, and edited by Jeff Piper.