A while back there was a photo circulating on Facebook of a car windshield with a twenty dollar bill tucked under the wiper blade. The headline read something along the lines of “If you see THIS on your car windshield, DON’T do THIS!”
The accompanying article claimed it was a setup to get robbed, or worse, carjacked. Never having heard of anyone actually experiencing this, I wondered if there was any credibility to the article or if it was simply clickbait.
Often, I will pass over posts with sensational titles claiming to expose a scam or dangerous street con because I assume the post itself might be a scam. However, after a close family member told me about a scary recent episode, I’ll never completely write off these “warning posts” shared on social media, and I urge you not to either.
Here is the real-life story of a dangerous street con that could happen to anyone:
This relative was on his way to work and was driving on a service road after exiting a busy freeway. It was then that he noticed a rental truck pull up next to him with two men and a woman inside. One of the men began signaling frantically and pointing at his tire, as if something was terribly wrong.
My relative (I’ll call him James to protect his identity) rolled down his window and the man yelled “Hey there’s something really wrong with your tire!! Pull over!!” James pulled over in a pharmacy parking lot, not in front, but along the side of the building as this was closest to the road.
James got out of the car and examined the tire that the strangers had been pointing at. He didn’t notice an obvious problem, but he did remember hitting a small piece of debris on the freeway a few miles back. It was possible this had caused an issue.
The man who had yelled out the window of the truck got down from the cab and came over. “Hey man, you’re lucky we saw you! Your tire is really messed up — it’s wobbling and could have fallen off!”
“Really?” James asked increduously.
“Really! But I’m actually a mechanic and I’ll take a look. I might be able to fix it right here.” The man grabbed a tool of some sort and began fiddling around with the tire. “Yea, here it is! You ran over a screw.” He was talking really quickly. “I’ve actually got the part in my truck to fix it. I’ll take care of it right now.”
James still didn’t see anything visibly wrong with the tire. But before he knew it, the stranger told him that the problem was fixed and he was good to go. James was relieved — he might still be able to make it to work on time after all. “Thanks man, I really appreciate it,” he said, reaching over to open his car door.
“Hey wait!” the strange man called out, his voice darkening. “That was an expensive part! You owe me two hundred dollars man!”
“What?! Two hundred dollars?” James was astonished. “No way! What’s the part called?” The stranger rattled off a name and James did a quick search on his phone. “This says it’s a SIX dollar part.”
The stranger became more agitated. He began yelling and moving towards James. “Are you trying to screw me over? I helped you out and I could lose my job because I gave you that part! Do you want me to get fired? I have a family to feed! You better give me the money!”
The other man, who until now had been sitting in the truck, opened the door and started to lean forward as if he was going to join the argument.
James looked around. He was on the side of the building where there were no other people. He is a young, able-bodied man, but he is outnumbered. Things are starting to go bad quickly. “Hey man, you’re making me uncomfortable. I don’t even carry that much cash on me.”
The stranger motions for his friend to back off and return to the truck. “You’re making him nervous!” He turns back to James, “There’s an ATM inside, you can get the money there.” He inches forward.
“No way!” James reaches for his phone again. “I’m gonna call the cops is what I’m gonna do.” Finally he realizes he’s going to have to get out of this situation quickly. He grabs a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and thrusts it at his aggressor. “Here’s twenty bucks — that’s more than enough and all I’m giving you. Now get out of here!”
With that, James bolts into his car, slams the door and speeds out of the parking lot without looking back. He lost twenty dollars, but knows that he could have lost a lot more if he had not kept cool and acted quickly.
When I heard this story, I couldn’t believe it. You always assume that scammers are going to go after an “easy” target. James isn’t the stereotypical victim. He’s not a “little old lady” or someone who you would picture getting taken. It was frightening to me that these people would be desperate enough to go after him.
For the next few days after James told me his story, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wondered how many people have been the victim of similar scams. Maybe these victims didn’t even know they had been scammed. They might have trusted that these men really were good samaritans and that they had actually fixed a problem. Perhaps they had paid them thinking it was a fair price for the part and labor. Or maybe there were people who had been scammed but weren’t brave enough to argue.
I asked James if it would be ok for me to share his story, and to warn others of this dangerous street con. I can’t say whether I would have fallen for it if I had not heard this first, but I definitely will be more cautious now.
If you are ever in a similar situation where someone asks you to pull over, or tells you there is something wrong with your car:
- Check your gauges, scan your mirrors. Does anything feel wrong with you car? If there is an obvious problem you can see (smoke coming from your engine), then of course you’ll want to stop immediately.
- If there is no obvious problem, but you think it’s possible that there could be (like James where he remembered hitting a piece of debris) keep driving until you are able to pull over in a well-populated and well-lit area. James made the mistake of stopping around the side of a building where there was no one else to see or to ask for help. He should have parked in front of the store entrance.
- Crack your window before rolling it down completely or getting out of the car. What is the stranger’s story? Does it seem rehearsed?
- Trust your gut. If you feel like something isn’t right, drive away to a safe area. If you are followed for any reason, call for help and do not stop.
I don’t want to imply that anyone who signals something is wrong with your car means you harm. I did want to share a real-life experience in the unlikely event you’re ever in a similar situation. You just never know, and it’s always best to have your guard up. If someone seems to magically appear “in just the right place at the right time,” be wary. It might sound cliché, but it truly is better to be safe than sorry.