She Defrauded Apps Like Uber and Instacart of Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars. Meet Priscila, Queen of the Rideshare Mafia

She’d long taken comfort that WhatsApp and Proton Mail, the email service she’d used for the apps, were encrypted. She used an alias, Carol, on her work phone so clients couldn’t easily snitch on her. Now the physical evidence was gone too. (“Sweet illusion,” she wrote me.) For a couple of weeks after the purge, Barbosa forced herself to stop making accounts.

She spent New Year’s in Miami Beach, where she posted a photo of herself wearing Gucci sunglasses and holding a frozen mai tai the size of her head. She shared the pic with the Mafia.

Someone quipped back, “Find me, FBI.”

As 2020 turned to 2021 and Barbosa continued making accounts, a low hum of dread invaded her idle moments. She started to ponder an exit.

She confided to a Mafia pal that she was scared of losing everything. News in February didn’t help: A 30-year-old Brazilian named Douglas Goncalves had been arrested for working under a stolen identity on Instacart. It was the first time Barbosa had heard of criminal consequences for a fake profile, and she recognized the suspect’s name: Goncalves, she says, had texted her a couple of weeks earlier about getting an account. His long-winded answers to her usual vetting questions annoyed her, and she ghosted him, she recalls. But the texts might still be sitting on his phone.

Fonseca, Barbosa’s DoorDash partner, also started to worry. Too many people were hawking accounts, licenses, and Social Security numbers in his WhatsApp groups. “Everybody knew this bomb would explode someday,” he said. “People are stupid and don’t take care.”

Barbosa thought about going legit, getting back into the food business, opening a Brazilian steakhouse. She figured startup costs at about $50,000; she had that amount many times over. She googled around to see what kind of permits she’d need.

Still, her frauds kept compounding. Uber was now rejecting the doctored ID photos; she bought a printer to create physical fake licenses. She had more than 50 customer accounts active on various platforms, and new people kept texting her, often with a woeful tale. To calm her fraying nerves, she told herself that with so many people in the accounts trade, some doing more audacious things than she was, why would she get in trouble? One Mafia member, she says, was running a team that spoofed DoorDash deliveries for food that, in reality, was never picked up or delivered.

“I had so many chances to stop, but I didn’t,” she wrote me. “It looked like an addiction you know.”

In April 2021, while Barbosa was cooking dinner, a text pinged her phone. Her green card had been approved. Barbosa screamed; she called her parents in tears. Then she threw together a party for the next night to celebrate. When Fonseca arrived, he squeezed through the loud, packed house and grabbed some Brazilian barbecue. Outside on the back porch, he found Barbosa, in cut-off shorts and a halter top, swigging overflowing champagne from the bottle.

If you ask Barbosa when she was happiest, she’ll say it was that moment: “Everything was perfect.” She had a green card. She had the house and the (real) boyfriend and the Porsche that she wanted. She booked a round-trip ticket—first class—to visit her family in Brazil for two weeks in late May. She bought Versace sneakers, because why not. She was going to open her steakhouse, marry her boyfriend, and, down the line, move into the house she’d build in Florida. Just three years after landing at JFK, she had risen to the top of a shadow Silicon Valley gig economy. She’d hacked her way to the American Dream.

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