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Killing of South Carolina student who mistook car for Uber prompts rideshare-safety campaign

"We want every college student in America to take a pledge that says they will never get into a rideshare without first asking the driver, 'What's my name?'" the university president said.

The University of South Carolina is launching a campaign called "What's My Name" to help students stay safe when using rideshares following the killing of a student who got in a car she thought was her Uber.

The body of Samantha Josephson, 21, was found Friday hours after she was reported missing when she failed to return home from a night out with friends.

Surveillance video showed Josephson entering a car around 2 a.m. Friday, police said. A suspect, Nathaniel D. Rowland, is in custody facing charges of kidnapping and murder.

Investigators said Josephson had ordered an Uber and they believe she thought Rowland's car was her ride.

Samantha Josephson, a University of South Carolina student who was reported missing after last being seen on March 29, 2019. The university on Saturday confirmed the death of the student.Columbia Police Department via AP

After news of Josephson's death broke, University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides said the college would do everything it could to prevent another such death.

"We want every college student in America to take a pledge that says they will never get into a rideshare without first asking the driver, 'What's my name,' to make sure that they are getting in the right vehicle," Pastides said.

He said the university has received calls from worried parents asking how they can keep their children safe while using ridesharing.

The university offers shuttles and has a police presence, Pastides said, but he added that any problem of anyone impersonating rideshare drivers is more than just a local issue.

"This is really a national problem. We thought we had a safe city here and a safe campus, but this might happen again this weekend if a student gets into one of those vehicles and hasn't fully confirmed that it's the right vehicle," he said.

Most rideshare services offer safety tools, such as describing the vehicle and license plate number of the service's driver, but Pastides said asking "What's my name?" is one more layer of protection.

"I think we can save lives. I think we owe it to the college population in the U.S. because this will happen again if we don't follow safety precautions," he said.

Josephson is far from the first person to enter a vehicle believing it was their rideshare.

In Las Vegas, a woman jumped from a moving car after discovering she had entered the wrong vehicle. In Chicago, police warned that fake rideshare drivers scammed passengers out of hundreds of dollars after claiming there was a payment issue. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a fake Uber driver admitted to police that he had been photographing unconscious women in his car.

In order to prevent similar incidents from happening, Uber has offered a range of suggestions on how to stay safe when using a rideshare.

In addition to checking the license plate, the make and model of the car, and that the person in the photo matches the image on the app, Uber suggests travelers riding alone should sit in the back seat of the car in order to have an exit on either side. The company also suggests sharing trip details with a friend through a "share status" option on the app.