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Sexual Assaults by Lyft Driver Force Company to Re-Examine Its Background Check Policies

By Michael Klazema on 8/2/2018

With ridesharing companies attracting more and more people to their platforms, swelling the annual number of passengers drivers transport, concerns over rider safety have moved to the forefront of public attention. Stories of altercations between drivers and their fares aren't uncommon, with some leading to violence. A Lyft driver has been linked through DNA to at least four rapes in the San Francisco area stretching back half a decade, leaving Uber's top competitor scrambling to explain how he slipped through.

According to the Associated Press, Orlando Vilchez Lazo was not actively working for Lyft when the alleged crimes occurred. He posed as a rideshare driver, likely using Lyft vehicle decals, and convinced women he was their assigned driver. Afterwards, police say, the assaults occurred. He now faces multiple charges and a potential sentence of life in prison. 

Although he passed Lyft's background screening procedures, Vilchez Lazo was not in the country legally, a fact that should have automatically disqualified him. Lyft claims Vilchez Lazo misrepresented himself and used falsified documents during his initial application.

Lyft uses a multi-stage screening process to attempt to weed out potentially bad actors. A driving record report is often the first step in clearing an applicant to get behind the wheel and transport passengers. Lyft also searches sex offender registries, similar to the US Offender OneSEARCH report offered by backgroundchecks.com, and makes inquiries into an applicant's criminal history. In some states, including California, rideshare businesses now face a mandate to conduct these checks on an annual basis; in other states, no such requirements are in place.

How did the alleged perpetrator slip past these checks? Does this indicate a potential weak point in Lyft’s practices? It appears that Vilchez Lazo did not have any prior criminal record. Short of uncovering his real immigration status, there was no reason for Lyft's system to flag him otherwise. 

Because of Vilchez Lazo's arrest and subsequent firing from Lyft, the company says it is taking a harder look at all its procedures with the intent of strengthening them. No details were released to the public to describe what that might entail; for now, the company is keeping its efforts under wraps. 

With the growth of the gig economy and an increasing number of freelance workers seeking employment, it is more important than ever for companies to implement thorough screening procedures of their own. While it is not a perfect defense, it is often a business's first opportunity to weed out candidates who could pose a risk to the company and its clients. backgroundchecks.com provides a full range of criminal history reports, including a nationwide criminal record search, to help keep your business in the clear. 


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