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NYC terror suspect drove more than 1,400 trips for Uber after passing background check

Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, 29, is an Uzbekistan national who entered the U.S. in 2010. Saipov is believed to be the man who killed eight people and injured more than 12 in lower Manhattan on Tuesday by driving a rental truck on a bike path. Saipov is seen in an undated handout photo provided by the St. Charles MO Dept. of Corrections. (St. Charles MO Dept. of Corrections/Released)

Sayfullo Saipov, the 29-year-old suspect in Tuesday’s deadly New York truck attack, earned money the way many gig economy works do. He drove for Uber.

But the fact that Saipov raised no flags for the ride-hailing company when it conducted its standard background check shows just how difficult it is to screen for potentially criminal behavior if there is no track record.

Saipov drove more than 1,400 trips for Uber in the past six months. Authorities continue to investigate the suspect, who came from Uzbekistan in 2010 and settled in Paterson, N.J. To date, his biggest offense seems to be from 2015, when he was cited by police for towing a trailer that was too long.

Other perpetrators of mass killings in the U.S. had similarly flown under the radar. The recent deadly rampage in Las Vegas was perpetrated by Stephen Paddock, who despite amassing a huge arsenal of weapons had no previous criminal history that might have helped authorities prevent the crime.

In 2016, Kalamazoo, Mich., Uber driver Jason Brian Dalton was picking up fares just before going on a shooting rampage that left six dead. He even started looking for fares after the killings. Dalton had passed Uber’s background check, and had no criminal background.

The company’s response to that incident was the same as its statement after Saipov rammed his rented truck into bicyclists, killing 8. An Uber representative said the company was “horrified” at the senseless act of violence as was cooperating with federal officials.

“We are aggressively and quickly reviewing this partner’s history with Uber, and at this time we have not identified any related concerning safety reports,” the statement said.

Uber said Saipov had been banned from the Uber app.

To check whether drivers can serve as contract workers for the tech start-up, Uber says it requires all applicants to provide their full name, date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number, a copy of his or her driver’s license, vehicle registration, vehicle insurance, and a valid bank account.

“To run the screenings, we work with ?Checkr?, a third party background check provider accredited by the ?National Association of Professional Background Screeners?,” the document says. “Checkr runs a social security trace to identify addresses associated with the potential driver, and then checks the potential driver’s driving and criminal history in a series of national, state and local databases.

“These include the US Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website, the PACER database, and several databases used to flag suspected terrorists,” it reads.

Ride hailing companies that specialize in transporting minors typically have more rigorous screen procedures that include fingerprinting. But this approach is more costly and time consuming, and many of these ventures, including pioneering Shuddle, have closed.

Uber does not require fingerprinting of its drivers. When asked why, an Uber representative provided a document that listed a number of reasons why the company believes fingerprinting has “gaps that reduce their efficiency.”

Taxi companies also screen their drivers, and have the added advantage of watching over the drivers as employees. Uber drivers are not employees but contractors, which has been an ongoing bone of contention for some drivers and labor activists.

Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter.


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