Peer-to-peer rental car services, such as Turo and Getaround, are an increasingly popular alternative to traditional car agencies. Individual car owners can rent their cars out to other drivers for a pre-specified period of time. However, recently, peer-to-peer rental cars have been used for a nefarious purpose. Smugglers at the border with Mexico use them for drug and human trafficking.
Border Patrol reports criminals using peer-to-peer car rentals at the US-Mexico border
As detailed by ABC15 Arizona, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that “criminals get a hold of the vehicles and use them for drug and human smuggling.” Border Patrol Agent Jesus Vasavilbaso said, “They are smuggling humans or narcotics depending on the situation.”
According to Vasavilbaso, for many years, criminals used rental cars to commit crimes. However, now, criminals target unsuspecting car owners through car-sharing platforms like Turo. Tom Bever, a former Turo host, said, “I filed a police report with the Tucson Police Department and found out the car had been seized at the U.S. border.”
Smugglers sometimes use Mexican teenagers that recently crossed the border
Sometimes, criminals “rent the cars to pick up Mexican nationals that already crossed the border.” This is “primarily in the towns of Douglas, Nogales, and Sonoita.” Many of these Mexican nationals are “inexperienced” teenagers.
“We’ve seen teenagers, a lot of young people that are being recruited, especially people from the Phoenix area where they get recruited through social media. Tell them that it’s easy. All they have to do is drive down to the border, pick up people, and drive back to Phoenix. It’s easy money. But that’s not the case. There are consequences for that,” said Vasavilbaso.
Car owners are caught in the middle and have to prove their innocence
In addition to the drug and human trafficking, another unfortunate aspect of the smugglers using peer-to-peer rental cars is car owners are caught in the middle. They are forced to prove their innocence to show that they were not involved in any criminal scheme. For the car owners, this can be a “long process through U.S. Customs and Border Protection.” Along with proving their innocence, this involves “a months-long car seizure.”
ABC15 Arizona interviewed Gabriel, a “Turo host that makes most of his income by renting out his vehicles.” However, this “turned into a nightmare when a woman booked his Dodge Caravan in January.” At first, the woman seemed legitimate, for she showed what appeared to be a valid driver’s license. She booked Gabriel’s Caravan for three days, and said she would visit family.
However, when it was time to return the minivan, “things went south.” Gabriel received a message stating that U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized his vehicle, and arrested the driver. The woman said that she let someone else use the car.
Gabriel then contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Border Patrol confirmed that his Dodge Caravan was there, but wouldn’t confirm its condition. After two months and a great deal of bureaucracy, Gabriel was able to pick up his minivan at a tow yard near the border. Gabriel had to pay for the inconvenience. He also paid to repair damage to his minivan, including replacing the hub caps.
What do Turo and other peer-to-peer rental car services do to address the smuggling problem?
ABC15 Arizona reached out to Turo regarding the smugglers using the peer-to-peer car service for drug and human trafficking at the border. When a car is impounded by Border Patrol for a human/drug smuggling incident, Turo stated that it “works with local law enforcement to retrieve the vehicle, covering costs related to the incident, and taking other appropriate measures, such as suspending a guest’s account.”
Turo also addressed preventive measures for human/drug smuggling incidents. The car rental service said, “We conduct certain trust and safety screening processes to flag and investigate suspicious activities and in an attempt to prevent guests with certain criminal backgrounds from accessing our services.” Turo also stated that it is “exploring additional solutions with law enforcement agencies and affiliated organizations to keep the Turo community safe and protected.”