The scam involves a couple of men who convince primarily elderly drivers to pull over because their car is “leaking” or “smoking.”
When the driver pulls over, the men ask the driver to stay in the car, lift the hood and dump anti-freeze on the engine to make it steam. They then bring the driver out to show them the “problem” and say they will have it fixed in no time.
Keeping the hood up so the driver cannot see what they are doing, the men claim to fix the car. They then demand a charge — past victims have been asked for amounts near $200 — claiming that an auto shop would charge them upwards of $500.
An elderly resident of Maspeth, who chose to remain anonymous, was approached by a couple of men in a dark red SUV attempting the scam last Friday, driving on Queens Boulevard near Grand Avenue.
The two men signaled him at a red light, telling him his car was smoking in the front and he might have a fire.
“So I stopped by Sears Roebuck and I looked at it and I didn’t see anything,” the man said. “When I questioned them, they said it only smokes when you step on the gas.”
He got back in his car, drove a little further and stopped again at 57th Street. He got out and checked again and did not see anything.
The men had followed him, approached his car and told him to turn the engine on. With the men hidden from view behind the hood, his car started to smoke.
“He then told me go across the street and get antifreeze,” the resident said. “I said don’t worry about it. He said I’m a mechanic, I can fix it for you.”
Instead, the elderly man was smart enough to recognize something did not seem right, and he called AAA instead. They suggested he go to Limberg Automotive in Maspeth.
Owner Danny Limberg helped the man out and told him that he was right, the two men were trying to scam him. It was not the first time he had heard of it happening.
“This is probably the fifth or sixth time that I’ve heard of it,” Limberg said.
He named off a few victims of the scam, mostly elderly women, and told the story of Donny Sabin, a sanitation worker from Maspeth who helped save one woman from spending a useless $200.
Sabin said that he was in Maspeth Federal Bank when he noticed that the elderly woman standing next to him seemed very distressed.
When he asked her what was wrong, she said her car had a leak, but a man had fixed it and now was asking for $200 for the repairs.
Sabin asked her to bring him to the man in question. When Sabin started to question the man about what he had done to the car, he fumbled over his answer.
“I said tell me what you fixed,” Sabin explained. “He said, ‘Oh, it was leaking and it was smoking.’ I said again, ‘I don’t care, what did you fix? You tell me you’re a mechanic, what did you fix?’”
Eventually, Sabin said, after a crowd formed and he continued his questioning, the man got flustered and said, “I don’t have time for this,” before walking away.
The incident happened about a year ago, and since then others have been targeted and many have not been as lucky in recognizing the scheme.
“If you think there’s something wrong, keep driving to a gas station or a mechanic’s shop and let them tell you,” Sabin, who used to be a mechanic himself, advised.
Limberg agreed, advising all drivers to be aware of the potential scammers.
“Don’t fall victim to this because it’s a scary scam and who they’re preying on don’t know any better,” he said.