Fake Uber driver charged with kidnapping in U.S.

A university student was found unconscious in the backseat

An Alabama man is charged with kidnapping by pretending to be an Uber driver to pick up a university student who was found unconscious in the back seat of his car, police said Monday.

Investigators found multiple images on the driver’s cellphone of at least one other college-aged woman who appeared unconscious in the vehicle, said Capt. Gary Hood, commander of the Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit.

Tommy Beard, 61, was released on bond Friday on a first-degree kidnapping charge, court records show. The records don’t list an attorney for him, and calls to a phone number listed for him in those records went unanswered.

“It’s alarming, absolutely,” Hood said.

READ MORE: Airports feared losing revenue to Uber and Lyft. Here’s what happened.

“He had a fake Uber sign that he bought online, and he admitted that he wasn’t an Uber driver,” Hood added.

Various Uber decals and lights for vehicles — many featuring the Uber logo — were available Monday on Amazon.com. A representative for Amazon said late Monday she was looking into the matter.

Uber LED signs were also available Monday through Walmart.com. Walmart representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hood said Beard picked up the 22-year-old woman near the University of Alabama campus and drove her about 7 miles (11 kilometres) away. A deputy noticed a car alongside the road and stopped to investigate, which led to his arrest March 2. Court records say the woman remembers being at a bar in Tuscaloosa but nothing else until the deputy woke her up.

A loaded handgun was found in Beard’s vehicle, but he had a legal permit for it, Hood said.

READ MORE: Proposed class action against Uber can proceed

Hood advises Uber users to arrange their rides through the company’s app, since it has certain safety features built-in. Users are given the driver’s name and a description of the vehicle before they get inside, for instance.

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