On that day, apparently, a lot of people did. There was a spike in rentals for Car2Go’s higher-end cars, Mercedes CLA sedans and GLA sport utility vehicles. And these rentals lasted much longer than Car2Go’s average 90-minute ride—in fact, many of the Benzes weren’t being returned at all. Instead, employees at Car2Go headquarters in Austin watched on a digital map as dozens of their vehicles congregated on a few blocks in West Chicago, in a neighborhood right outside the company’s coverage area.
Car2Go sent several workers to retrieve the vehicles, only to find that a group of thieves had claimed them as their own. Some blocked the vehicles in to prevent repossession; others threatened the company’s employees, according to someone with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity. Car2Go has the ability to remotely disable vehicles, but the confusing situation made it tough to know which ones to target in time to do much good. Previously unreported accounts of the few days that followed from people with knowledge of the thefts, along with police reports and contemporary social media posts, offer a surreal lesson in the risks of businesses built on smartphone-enabled car-sharing. “This was a unicorn incident for us as a company,” says Kendell Kelton, a Car2Go spokeswoman. “We’ve never seen this type of fraudulent activity at this scale ever, ever.”
Just as Car2Go was beginning to notice the strange traffic, ads on Facebook began pitching Chicagoans on short-term Mercedes rentals. Then came the photos and videos of joyrides, with a heavy dose of the laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying emoji. People posted messages bragging about their new Mercedes, asking where they could get one, or lamenting that they were missing out. “It was crazy. Every half-mile you’ll see a CLA or GLA Mercedes,” says a neighborhood resident who gave his name only as Justin because he was discussing a crime. “Some were totaled, some were abandoned. There were even some that were gutted out.”
After its failed attempts to recover the cars itself, Car2Go asked the Chicago Police Department for help. By midweek the company suspended service in Chicago altogether, an acknowledgment that it couldn’t figure out how to distinguish legitimate customers from the group of thieves. Kelton says about 75 cars in total were compromised. All were eventually recovered, though some only after being stripped of doors, seats, and other parts…[ ]