Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The scam that nearly worked

This scam was perpetrated on me on Monday, May 9.  I was driving west along Sherman Way in Canoga Park.  A man in a black Ford drove alongside me and motioned to me.  I lowered the window so that I could hear him.  He said my right rear tire was leaking.  I thought he meant that it was going flat.  I turned in to a parking area near a Ralphs supermarket.  He got out of his car and pointed to my right rear wheel and exclaimed that it was leaking hydraulic fluid.  I got out of my car to look.  There was indeed some water on the asphalt next to the wheel.  It didn't look like brake fluid.  He pointed to the brake disk and pointed to some red fluid on it.  He had me convinced and I didn't know what to do at the moment.

Looking back I realize that I should have thanked him and told him I would look after it, got back in my car, rolled up the windows, and locked the doors.  I should have told him I would phone for a tow truck to take the car to a mechanic I knew and trusted.  I didn't do any of that.

I'm not at all proud of what I did next.  I listened to him.  He pointed to the woman and babies in the back of his car.  He was a mechanic who was trying to do an occasional job for himself, not for the boss.  He told me to beware of most mechanics because they will install shoddy equipment in your car and thereby void the warranty.  He wondered whether I had received a recall letter recently from the Toyota Company about my 2000 Avalon.  He assured me he wasn't trying to steal my car.  He would have a tow truck take my car to his boss's shop at no expense.  I wanted the car towed to my own mechanic.  He said that if I didn't like his estimate of the repair cost he would have the tow truck take the car to my own mechanic.

Eventually (and this is the part of the story that I'm most ashamed to admit) I let him take my car keys and drive me to my house.  He gave me his phone number and said he would perform some diagnostic tests on the car to find out what was wrong and the tests would take an hour or two.

At home I had time to cool off, relax, become calm, and think clearly.  I talked to my daughter by telephone.  She told me to find where the car is and to report the whole matter to the police.

I eventually, after phoning 911 and waiting to be switched to several police stations, was able to talk to a duty officer at the Topanga Station in my area.  The officer said that I should talk to the man again before calling in the police.  He might be legitimate.  If so, he would sue me for bringing the police down on him.

Eventually the man answered his phone.  He would come and get me in about half an hour.  My other daughter phoned me and warned me against getting into a car with the man.  I got a friend to drive me to the location.  I phoned him again and told him  I didn't need his transportation and was bringing a friend.  I also asked him where the car was.

He said the car was at an address on Ventura Boulevard.  He implied it was in a shop and begged me not to come into the shop lest the boss find out what he was doing and fire him.

My friend arrived and we proceeded to the address.  The "shop" was a large building that had nothing to do with auto repairs.  We parked just beyond the building.  The man came from the parking area behind the building and led us to the car.  He said that he had already made the needed repairs.  I told him I had not authorized him to work on the car, but just provide an estimate.  He didn't tell me how much the "repairs" cost.  Instead he opened the trunk of my car and showed me several dirty pieces of hardware that might have come from some auto or truck.  There were two long tubular structures that might have been shock absorbers.  I knew that none of them had come from my car.  None of them had the remotest connection to a hydraulic fluid leak.  He wouldn't have had time to replace such parts during the two hours that he'd had the car, especially without a lift so that he could get under it to do the work.  I told him I had no interest in the parts and told him to remove them from the car.

The woman was with him.  She said she was his sister.  She said I ought to pay something because her brother had saved my life by warm\ning me of the brake problem.  I said that since I hadn't authorized any repairs I wasn't obligated to pay them.  By now I had the car keys.  He kept talking about his children, that he was just trying to make a living, etc.  I finally told him about a woman who had accosted me a week or two earlier in another parking lot with a story about losing her credit card and having no money and would I give her something to buy groceries, or perhaps buy groceries for her?  I had given her twenty dollars and I offered the same to him.

He refused my twenty dollars and showed me a big wad of bills to prove that he had some money.  He became angry and threatened to have a lien placed on the car.  I told him I would take my chances and my friend and I drove off in our two cars.  We drove to my regular auto mechanic with no problem.  The brakes worked as good as ever.  I left the car with my mechanic for its scheduled servicing and told him the  whole story.  I told him to inspect the care\to make sure that there was nothing new that had been installed.

It's a long story that I'm not proud of.  I tell it to warn others not to be taken in by an auto repair scam.
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