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Border Patrol warns of new smuggling trend involving peer-to-peer car rentals

Border Wall Gaps
Posted at 3:16 PM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-20 01:44:21-04

TUCSON, AZ — Peer-to-peer car rental services are being taken advantage of by criminals.

Border Patrol says criminals are getting a hold of the vehicles and using them for drug and human smuggling.

"They are smuggling humans or narcotics depending on the situation," says Border Patrol Agent Jesus Vasavilbaso.

Vasavilbaso says criminals have been using rental cars to commit crimes for years. Now, unsuspecting car owners are being targeted through car-sharing platforms like Turo.

People post their cars on the platform thinking they'll make extra money by letting someone rent their car for a few days.

"I filed a police report with the Tucson Police Department and found out the car had been seized at the U.S. Border," says Tom Bever, a former Turo host.

Criminals are sometimes renting the cars to pick up Mexican nationals who have already crossed the border illegally, primarily in the towns of Douglas, Nogales, and Sonoita. Many of them are inexperienced.

"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's consequences for that," says Vasavilbaso.

There aren't just consequences for the person renting the car; those listing their car out face consequences as well. They end up getting caught in the middle, facing a long process through U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That includes a months-long car seizure and having to prove they are not connected to the crimes committed.

Turo answered the following questions as part of our story:

What does Turo do when a car is impounded because of a human/drug smuggling incident: 

When we learn that a host’s vehicle has been involved in a trust and safety incident, our team takes immediate action to support the host, including working 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.

What preventative measures does Turo have in place to deal with human/drug smuggling incidents: 

While extremely rare in occurrence, we take trust and safety situations very seriously and have strong protections in place to support our community. 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.

Human and drug trafficking are horrific crimes plaguing many in the travel and tourism industry. We have been exploring additional solutions with law enforcement agencies and affiliated organizations to keep our Turo community safe and protected.

How often does this happen?

Incidents such as these are extremely rare on Turo; 0.006% out of all Turo trips in the past 6 months.