By on July 12, 2019


After suspending manual background checks to encourage fresh users in April, Daimler subsidiary Car2Go found itself with a problem in Chicago — its new customers were stealing cars by the gross.

On the April 15th, the ride-sharing service notice an uptick in usage that was well above the norm. However, as the day progressed, the company found that a lot of its higher-end vehicles weren’t coming back. Instead, they were convening on Chicago’s West Side. Two days later, the Chicago Police Department announced that it had been notified by Car2Go that some of the company’s vehicles may have been rented by deceptive or fraudulent means and was officially on the prowl for justice. 

Since the company keeps digital tabs on rental vehicles at its offices using GPS, the thefts were doomed from the start. Rather than immediately chop the cars up, much of the criminal element seemed content to just have a newish Mercedes-Benz CLA or GLA (nobody wanted the Smarts) for personal use. Despite a handful of the rentals having been stripped of their doors, or worse, the majority of the stolen rides were reportedly found intact. Several of the suspects even posted videos of themselves online, bragging about “their” new Mercedes whist joyriding.

Car2Go Mercedes

About 75 cars we stolen in total, some of which were already being rented out to the thieves’ neighbors. Police reported they had charged 21 individuals a couple days after the heist. Apparently, the suspects’ collective defense was that the cars actually belong to them… you can guess how well that worked.

“This was a unicorn incident for us as a company,” Car2Go spokeswoman Kendall Kelton told Bloomberg on Thursday. “We’ve never seen this type of fraudulent activity and this scale ever, ever.”

While the technological might of giant corporations (and satellites) ultimately made the thefts a failure, it does raise a lot of questions about connected fleet vehicles and cyber security. Car2Go said that roughly 20 people set up a glut of fake accounts in Chicago on April 13th utilizing stolen or bunk credit card information. From there, all the thieves had to do was book a car and drive it away.

Despite being larger and slightly more organized, these types of thefts are on the rise. Electric scooter firms have struggled endlessly with thefts and the situation has spilled over into short-term car rental services. Car2Go ended up reverted back to conducting manual checks on new customers and it’s easy to see why.

From Bloomberg:

When Enterprise Holdings Inc. stopped operating its car-sharing service in Chicago in 2017, it also cited high rates of fraud and vandalism. When ReachNow introduced its service in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2016, so many vehicles began disappearing that it was difficult for paying members to find any. The company, which had used an automated approval process, suspended its service and switched to manually reviewing new applications, according to a former employee who asked not to be identified disclosing private operational decisions. ReachNow resumed service but stopped operating in Brooklyn permanently in 2018, a decision resulting in part from continued fraud.

For Car2Go, it hasn’t been unusual for customers to create legitimate accounts, check out high-end vehicles, then lease them to nonmembers for short periods at inflated prices, according to someone familiar with its fraud problems who wasn’t authorized to discuss them. This practice, a violation of Car2Go’s rules, has been an issue in Chicago since the company started operating there, the person says. In several cases, hackers with lists of email addresses and passwords have written scripts to locate car-sharing accounts using those credentials. Once they find the accounts, they sign out cars and disable their GPS trackers, causing them effectively to disappear.

[Images: Daimler]

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17 Comments on “Car2Go Thieves Test Car-sharing Vulnerabilities...”

  • avatar

    You mean to tell me that Chicago and NYC are hotbeds of criminal activity!? I’m aghast! Who would have ever thought such a thing!

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Next time you hear some bright light in the media preaching about the “sharing economy” and how personal automobile ownership will become obsolete, remember this story.

    • 0 avatar

      For that matter, anytime you hear talk of how computers or machines are going to solve any problem or take over the world, remember humans are the ultimate answer to “this is foolproof, what could go wrong?”.

      Witness Samsung’s foldable phones. All those 1000s of hours testing by machines down the drain when some tech reviewers pulled the ‘screen protector’ off.

  • avatar

    All the giveaways the Democratic candidates are competing with, and none of them thought to give away new Mercedes to poor city dwellers?

  • avatar

    It’s one thing to know the average human is basically a good person; it’s another to know that no matter how good they may be as a person, you can expect them to take advantage of a perceived weakness in others. Such thefts were inevitable, though the cars’ systems were able to locate them and effectively catch the thieves. A better organized group with a few better tools might have managed to defeat the tracking systems in those cars.

    • 0 avatar

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the coordinated exercise on April 15th was used to determine system vulnerabilities. There was a mention of some of the cars being partially disassembled while others were merely used or re-rented to traffickers. The ones that were taken apart and recovered probably each represent a quick shot at finding the tracking hardware. Some cars that weren’t found probably represent successful efforts to find and quickly neutralize the tracking devices. A time will come when what was learned will lead to operations like the ones in Brooklyn that killed off car area car sharing.

  • avatar

    Trouble ahead. Chicago and Brooklyn are about to become “Car-Share Deserts” much similar to the “food deserts” of some lower income neighborhoods.

  • avatar

    “Sharing economy” companies will only be successful in wealthier cities and suburbs, where there is a lower chance of the customers to keeping the product. So what seems like a great idea in and around the campuses of the tech companies, where everyone makes well over 6 figures, does not work so well when introduced to markets with lower average incomes.

    Lime did a test in Hartford, Connecticut last year. It seemed to go well, but when the test was over, Lime pulled out. Funny thing, though, many of the bikes remain. I see them every day, wires dangling, as they are ridden around the Hartford metro area. Seems the renters liked the bikes so much they kept them.

  • avatar

    It’s a good thing that owning firearms is illegal in Chicago and probably in Brooklyn too. At least nobody gets killed. Having joyride in stolen vehicle is not a bad thing – no one is dead and everyone is happy. Regarding Mercedes they knew what they are doing and difference between Chicago and Berlin.

  • avatar
    kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh

    Im stunned nobody spent 1000$ on a old cargo container and just started parking cars in them to block the gps, then disable the gps on their own time. Some of the rentals were fake ID’s .. this could have been way worse.

  • avatar

    It surprises me how quickly a myth can be accepted by unthinking writers. Car2go is not part of the ‘sharing economy’ and is only one of many companies that have successfully implemented misleading marketing campaigns to position themselves as social and environmentally responsible organizations. Car2go is a car rental company owned by Daimler who manufacture both Mercedes and Smart cars. The rental model involves street parking and per minute billing which is 10x higher than traditional car rental companies.

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