Heads Up: “man posing as a good Samaritan helping with car trouble”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Jonathan Rogers

“Dear PoPville,

I write in to warn others about a man posing as a good Samaritan helping with car trouble. My partner and I were driving from Brookland through to Hyattsville on Friday evening, 11/20 around 8pm. My partner was driving and I was in the passenger seat. Somewhere along Riggs Rd. NE, a guy driving an early 2000s silver ford windstar minivan pulls up on our passenger side, honking and motioning for me to roll down my window. I do and he tells me that our right front wheel is wobbling a lot and looks like it will fall off. My partner says he did feel something off when turning, so we made our next right and pull off the road into an alley to check things out. We notice that the man in the minivan had pulled up behind us and he got out to point out what he saw. He was very specific and said it was the lower ball joint nut that was coming loose, and that all the potholes in the dmv area cause this frequently. He demonstrated that it was loose, saying he knew what he was looking for given that he was a mechanic, and was able to convince my mechanical engineer partner who built a race car in college that it needed adjusting right then and there. The man said he had the tools to fix it and could do it in three to twelve minutes and we’d be on our merry way.

He told us he wasn’t a crook and that he is actually a mechanic who specializes in front ends at Pohanka Honda in Capitol Heights. To make a long story short, the man ends up pretending to tighten a nut while my partner is in the car turning the wheel to give him access and I’m holding my smart phone’s flashlight to give him light. This guy is a really good actor and deliberately preyed on the good will and trust of me and my partner. After he was through “fixing” the problem, he said he normally charges 40 bucks at Pohanka. We only had $32 between us so we gave that to him gladly for his assistance.

Come to find out after that situation was over and we had uninterrupted time to process, the particular nut he purported to tighten has a pin through it that acts as a lock/failsafe to prevent loosening. There’s no way he removed a pin before making his convincing tightening motions. We feel pretty dumb and taken advantage of, but also sad that this guy seems to need money enough to do this kind of con artist schpiel. We also called Pohanka Honda to verify if they had a mechanic named KC and they don’t. We warned them that there’s a guy out there posing as one of their mechanics.

The guy was an African-American male in his sixties, average height and build. He was driving a pretty beat up silver Ford Windstar minivan. His MO is to point out an urgent issue with your car and then pretends to be a mechanic and helps you out in a pinch for the low price of $40.”

30 Comment

  • Did he have any speakers to sell?

  • Just like in the other thread, anything not taking place in a registered/bonded/secure environment is suspect.

    Never accept unsolicited goods or services, never give or receive cash, and never sign petitions/forms.

  • It’s the holidays. Hustlers gonna hustle.

  • ah

    Just be glad he didn’t do the further scam of actually loosening the nut or something so you need more assistance, at a bigger price.

  • I had a similar experience a few years ago on Rhode Island Ave & N. Capitol St. The description sounds like the same guy. He told me he could fix the problem on the spot for cheap. He added that he didn’t recommend that I keep driving on the wheel because it could fall off at anytime. I figured it was a scam and told him that I didn’t carry cash so I’d risk losing the wheel. Took the car to my normal mechanic and he said nothing was wrong.

  • This has also been a ruse for carjacking. Guy tells the driver they have a low tire and when the driver pulls over to check the guy steals the car – or worse.

  • It seems like, for all the knowledge and time and effort spent here, the guy could just take a few extra steps to become a legit mechanic.

  • Never, ever let someone who doesn’t have a badge and a blue light on his car get you to pull over (and even if he does have a badge, pull over in a well lit area and start the video camera on your phone).

    • Are you allowed to do that? A cop wanted to pull me over in Fairfax, and I drove slowly up to the next light because it seemed unsafe to do it at the spot where he turned his lights on. He ended up writing me a ticket for failure to yield to an officer, and I took the case to court with a witness but was unable to get it dismissed.

      • I don’t know, but I sure as hell won’t pull over for some random old dude in a minivan.

      • I was always told that as long as you slowed down and put your hazards on, that a cop should understand you wanting to pull over somewhere more safe, but if this works in practice? Who knows.

        • I didn’t turn on my hazards so maybe that was the problem. And I was mostly doing it for HIS sake– it seemed likely he’d get hit by a car if we pulled over where he wanted me to. I think he did that intentionally so he could write me two tickets instead of one.

        • I got chewed out by a cop for doing this. I didn’t want to pull over where I was because it was a narrow, high-speed road and I thought it would pretty dangerous for him to get out of his car and walk up next to mine, so I put on my hazards pulled down the road about 50 feet and turned into a parking lot. He was mad as hell and said doing that made him think I was “up to something.”

          That experience made me think as a white person who doesn’t drive much, I actually have very little idea of what to do if pulled over. We need some PSAs.

          • I think it all depends on the cop and what his motive is. In my case I think he planned all along to write me two tickets, so nothing I could do or not do would have helped.

  • Having just seen Room, the OP made out pretty well in this situation. There are much worse things that could have happened!

  • Similar situation happened to me a couple of months back. I was on Rhode Island and a guy fitting the same description pulled up to my car and told me the same thing- my wheel was wobbling. I pulled over into the next BP station and I noticed he pulled up behind me. Immediately something didn’t feel right about the situation, he asked if I needed help. Thankfully I had the right mind to get back in the car, tell him thank you and drive up to Autozone where I asked if a store employee would stand out and see if he noticed the wheel wobbling. No wonder the nice Autozone employee looked at me like I was crazy.

  • Thanks for posting. I had the same experience near the intersection of Michigan Ave and North Capitol last year with what sounds like the very same man.

  • As a general rule, when someone assures you they’re not a crook, they’re probably a crook. See, e.g., Tricky Dicky.

  • Don’t. Give. Money. To. Anyone. Seriously, don’t give money to a rando ever. This is a good scam, but every scam can be avoided just by never even considering that they’re legit.

  • It happened a long time ago, probably at some point in January of this year, but the same thing happened to me waiting for the light to turn green at the intersection of New Hampshire and Missourri Ave. He basically gave me the same speech and told me that my tire could fall off and he was a mechanic somewhere. I kind of knew this was BS for mutliple reasons, number one being if the tire was in danger of falling off and was wobbling it would be noticable while driving.

  • OP here. I do feel pretty dumb but for the most part thankful that this situation ended innocuously. It’s tough in the moment when these kinds of things are happening to have 100% of your wits and common sense about you. Lesson learned, and glad I could help warn others about this guy who seems to have gotten away with this too many times!

    • I operate that anyone I don’t know who tries to interact with me on the street is running some kind of hustle. My approach is to keep moving but and let them make their pitch, but 9.99 times out of 10, I will not stop. Doesn’t matter if you’re in your car or on the sidewalk, keep moving with purpose away from the person trying to hustle you, eventually they give up and look for an easier mark. I learned this because I have one of those faces that says gullible doof, but I’m actually incredibly cynical, so I get approached by a lot of people running a hustle. I did get burned one time when a nice man who didn’t speak much English was trying to tell me I left my cell phone on a plane, so buyer beware.

  • Guys – if your wheel was wobbling to where it was about to fall off, you would definitely feel it in the steering wheel and your car would not drive in a straight line. You’d definitely know something was wrong. I am surprised this guy gets away with that scam as often as he does.

  • This exact same thing happened to me a loooong time ago near Eastern and Michigan NE. It was probably 2002 or 2003. The guy rolled down his window, said my wheel was wobbly, then we both pulled over and he wiggled my wheel around a little to demonstrate what was “wrong”. I was actually in HS at the time and a brand new driver, but luckily had the good sense to realize it was a scam!

  • I had a similar thing happen to me a few years ago on Rhode Island Avenue NE. He wanted me to come to a garage of some sort so that he could fix the wheel or call his friend at a garage that would fix the wheel. I said no that I’d take my chances and go to my mechanic. I made it home and my wheel didn’t fall off. He was pretty convincing though.

  • Well you need to know better you car.

  • Wallet inspector here. Please have your wallet out for inspection.

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