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Slashed tire rental car scam

My first post! I listened in astonishment yesterday as a friend described his family's experience with his family in Paris last month and suggested to him that he should post on the Rick Steves Travel Forum. I explained how useful it had been for my husband & me to read of various common pickpocketing scams in Rick's books. (The one that comes to mind was being asked for help by someone who is hard of hearing -- once distracted, a second person picks your pocket). We were no longer vulnerable to this scam and were able to recognize it at once when we were approached in exactly that way near Notre Dam in Paris.

My friend is a frequent traveler to Paris, yet on this visit he and his wife and daughter were totally unaware of the possibility of a tourist scam when a guy on a scooter signaled to the passenger side adult (my friend's wife), pointing to the back tire, and later explaining that the back tire was flat. My friend pulled the rental car to the curb and got out to talk with the "good samaritan," who was already on the ground examining the tire and saying he had a patch kit! While my friend and his family were distracted by all of this, a second thief entered the car on the driver's side and stole all their bags which had been inside the car.

The next thing that happened was that three plain clothed Paris policemen jumped on the scooter/tire helper person and put him in handcuffs! My friends were very lucky and did not lose any property. They had nothing but praise to offer for the police and their quick actions.

Lastly -- I did a search on this topic and saw a similar scenario described in Italy in October of 2017. Scrolling down through all the comments, it seemed that the majority of respondents distrusted or disliked the story! I myself have often traveled to Italy and have never had any problems, but I can still believe that this story happened and think it is important to spread the word so that people had be forewarned of the possibility of such scams. To close, I will copy the post on this forum from 10-17:

BEWARE! Car rental scam in Italy
Jump to bottom Posted by mojopdx on 10/19/17 09:37 PM
BEWARE! This is a common scam in Italy. First, all rental cars in Italy are marked with a neon yellow sticker on the gas cap cover that announces to the world that you're a tourist. So here's the scam: Man # 1 comes up behind you on a bike or scooter & slashes your rear tire, then acts "helpful" & tells you the tire is flat. You pull over & he stays with you. Tells you it isn't safe, you can't park here, you have to go to the "garage" nearby. DON'T do it. They take you to an isolated area where they rob you at gun point. We refused & started trying to fix the tire ourselves with the inflation kit. Then Man # 2 comes along to be "helpful" & also tries to get you to go to the "garage." In the meantime, they're casing the car & your belongings. At some point, they'll distract you & steal what they can. In our case, they got my husband's travel pouch with passport & credit card. The Enterprise folks all say this is happening to many tourists, yet they never warned us when we rented the car. The US Consulate says this is the # 2 scam against tourists right now in Italy. So be forewarned! & drive safe out there. BTW, there's a US Consulate in Milan if you need another passport.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
18342 posts

One of the issues with first time posters coming with these stories, we have no way to judge your credibility or motivation. No question that it has happened. Is it common ??? as you state. And third party reports are always suspect to a little hype. So it hard to judge the report other than it is a report. If you had spent any time on this site prior you would know that there is a constant theme of always being careful and alert but not overly suspicious of everything.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
3460 posts

Color me skeptical. Another drive-by first-post with a warning...

First, all rental cars in Italy are marked with a neon yellow sticker on the gas cap cover that announces to the world that you're a tourist

Odd, none of the cars I've ever rented in Italy have ever come with any kind of yellow sticker on the gas cap cover. Now, it's true that lots of rental cars have big decals on the windows with the name of the rental agency (which always seemed unwise) but you don't have to be a detective to be able to figure out which cars are rentals - this seems like a red herring, but on to the "tire slash" scam story...

This story, like the "Italian villa robbery" nonsense, has multiple logic flaws:

  1. The tire was presumably NOT flat as friend was driving along in Paris. Scooter bad guy signaled that it was was. Driver pulls over, gets out and sees scooter bad guy working on the tire, which is now flat? How did it suddenly go from good to flat? Whoever came up with this story has probably never spent much time around tires, but I can tell you: tires are made of thick, resilient material. It actually takes some work to put a hole in a tire at all, even more work to put a hole big enough to get all the air out very quickly. A knife or box-cutter or similar tool is not going to do that (go find an old tire, and try plunging a knife into the sidewall - good luck, and don't hurt yourself, because it's more likely you will slash your hand than get through that thick tire).

  2. Tires generally do not go from fully inflated to flat instantly, it takes a while - more than the time it would take to get out and walk around the car. You might be able to "slash" a bicycle tire (if you get it in the right spot). But I don't think it's credible that one could discreetly and quickly "slash" an automobile tire so effectively that it would go from full to flat in just a few seconds.

  3. This was purportedly a "family" of (at least) three. Dad, mom and daughter. Dad gets out to engage the tire guy. Where's mom? Still in the car? How about the daughter - presumably she is still seated in the car, in the back seat. The OP would have you believe that Bad Guy #2 came by, and "entered the car on the driver's side and stole all their bags which had been inside the car."

Really - stole all their bags, while the daughter (and maybe mom too) just sat there - and nobody noticed that?

Are you sure there wasn't any "sleeping gas" involved?

Posted by Bets
Deep in the hills of southern Indiana
5583 posts

The most astonishing thing to me is that it says tourists were driving in Paris—second, that three plains clothes officers were right there.

Robert—the article was based on a publication from AIG, which was selling travel insuance. The AIG sources are from 2015 and include Rick Steves Tourist Scams and Rip-offs as one of the sources.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
4390 posts

From the US Department of State Diplomatic Safety:
https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=23504

Perpetrators also target rental cars driven by unsuspecting
tourists
. One particular method employed by criminals is to block a
targeted vehicle with a scooter while an accomplice sneaks up and
snatches electronics and other valuables through open windows or
unlocked car doors. Another technique involves another motorist
communicating that you have a flat tire in an attempt to get you to
stop. A recently reported technique involves assailants throwing a rat
into an occupied car; when the occupants flee the vehicle to escape
the rat, thieves jump in and drive away with it.

At least it's only a rat, not a snake.

Posted by Mark
Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
2063 posts

a second thief entered the car on the driver's side and stole all their bags which had been inside the car.
The next thing that happened was that three plain clothed Paris policemen jumped on the scooter/tire helper person and put him in handcuffs! My friends were very lucky and did not lose any property.

So which is it? Were all of their bags stolen by the second guy or did they lose nothing because the scooter guy was arrested? No mention of the second thief getting handcuffed. Did he return to the scene and give everything back after seeing his friend arrested?

Posted by janetnoble OP
4 posts

The story about the plain-clothed officers is absolutely true. Apparently the police had been aware of at least one other successful robbery pulled off by these criminals, and the police were somehow on their trail. My friend and his family were amazed and impressed by the police! I've been taking yoga classes regularly with the friend who had this experience; others in the class have very much enjoyed his Paris stories in the past. I have no doubt that this was any sort of "wild tale" but in fact quite factual. I never claimed that I knew it to be a common occurrence -- just that I did see the post on the forum from October 2017 and was struck by the similarity in the scam that was described in Italy.

-Janet

Posted by janetnoble OP
4 posts

To explain further about how the bags were returned: The police were on the trail of the criminals, knew their strategy involved an accomplice who would be pulling out the bags, and they had the situation covered. The amusing part of the story is that my friend was so astonished by seeing three men jump on the first criminal and had no idea what was happening until the police showed some sort of I.D., I believe on some sort of wrist band -- but don't quote me on that detail! -- just somehow they identified themselves as police.

Again, the police were able to return all the stolen possessions to my friend and his family.

Posted by janetnoble OP
4 posts

And I forgot to say that all three occupants of the rental car HAD left the car! The scooter/tire guy was lying down on the sidewalk beginning some sort of repair -- my friend's focus was on asking the guy to please STOP doing that -- and his wife and daughter had also exited the vehicle to observe the commotion happening by the back wheel!

I guess I don't understand why anyone would suspect that i would be motivated to make up a false story on this.

Again, my husband and I have felt grateful in the past that we were forewarned about various scams to watch out for, so I wanted to be sure and share my friend's story.

In fact, this year my husband and I rented a car for one week in France for the very first time trying to do this, and if a guy in a scooter had driven up alongside of us pointing out that our tire was flat, we would have only felt thankful for his help and never have suspected that it could have been part of an elaborate scam to distract us!

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
3460 posts

I guess I don't understand why anyone would suspect that i would be motivated to make up a false story on this.

Let me help you understand. It's because...

  1. Someone does exactly that every week or two. It happens all the time right here. We all have seen them.

  2. The purportedly "true" stories are always someone's first post here (same as yours). And they sound a lot like the one you posted - it's always someone relaying a third-hand experience that they claim happened to "a friend" (same as yours) and all seem to have the same tone, with the same gaps in logic.

  3. What you posted can simply be boiled down to the following rule-of-thumb which every experienced traveler already knows very well: be very cautious about any "distraction" - if something happens around you doesn't make sense, if some stranger is purporting to help you, if something just feels weird, then it's almost certainly a scam. Ask yourself this: if the same thing happened to you in your home town, would your BS detector ping? (it should!)

  4. It's Friday. 90% of all the spam and nonsense that gets posted here appears on a Friday (because the spammers and the scammers hope their nonsense will stay up trough the weekend, when staff is generally not working).

  5. Not our first rodeo. Plenty of folks here have been on this forum for many, many years, and have seen it all, and are not easy to fool.

That's why.

Posted by Denise
Lake Forest, CA, USA
1597 posts

Nevertheless, thanks for posting and making us aware. It's always good to have a reminder.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7336 posts

I especially like the part about the scooter guy’s helper entering the car and stealing all the family’s bags. I am wondering how, had the police not arrived just in the nick of time, would two guys on a scooter have been able to take off with the family luggage. Anyway, surely since the driver’s daughter had been in the back seat, the luggage was in the trunk? If not, why not?

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
18342 posts

A lot doesn't hold water BUT that is to be expect from a third party account. Not unlike the gas attacks. The trunk could have been open getting the spare tire out -- if they had a spare since some do not. We have rented cars in Italy over the years and never had a neon stick on the gas door.

Posted by Nigel
Northamptonshire, England
19691 posts

no they didn't need a spare.

already on the ground examining the tire and saying he had a patch kit

I gotta say though, the last time I heard of car patch kits was when they had inner-tubes.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
4390 posts

Another variation on the flat tire scam:
https://bicycletouringpro.com/20-common-street-scams-every-world-traveler-needs-to-know-about/

Flat Tire Scams

In this scam, you stop to help a motorist who appears to have a flat
tire. As you speak with the driver, an accomplice (one of his
passengers) steals your purse, wallet, camera, or anything expensive
to hand (this can happen within seconds).

Another variation of this scam takes place when tacks or nails are
laid down in the roadway, causing you to get a flat tire on your
bicycle, motorbike or car. When one or more people happen upon you and
offer their assistance, you are happy to receive their help, only to
later discover that they were robbing you while you were distracted
and working on your flat tire.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
4390 posts

Nigel,
RE: I gotta say though, the last time I heard of car patch kits was when they had inner-tubes.

Here in North America (at least the the western expanses), we can be far out in the bush with only one of those "emergency" spares. A tire plug kit could come in handy.

Example: https://www.grainger.com/product/33M142?cm_sp=Product_Details-_-Products_Based_on_Your_Search-_-IDPPLARECS&cm_vc=IDPPLARECS
Igor's video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghVhZN4-E84

Posted by Bets
Deep in the hills of southern Indiana
5583 posts

I’m still curious about them driving in Paris. Where exactly did it happen?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
29072 posts

janet,

Regardless of whether this is your first post, I'll take this at face value and comment accordingly.

This type of scam is popular in many parts of Europe, not just Paris. There have been several threads on the forum about this sort of thing in the past. This is just one of the plethora of scams targeting tourists that have been posted, such as the recent "bird crap" scam. It's fortunate that your friends didn't lose anything, and I'm sure this will serve as a good lesson for future trips.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7336 posts

Ken is always so kind and reasonable. Must be the British Columbia climate.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
4301 posts

Janet's friend's story might be real, whose to say. It at least has plausibility. But the story she posted is absolutely false and the type of viral scare mongering seen often on travel forums and Facebook.

Posted by michyb
Vancouver BC
1 posts

I'm stunned and amazed that someone posted important information to help other travellers and now they must defend themselves and try to 'prove' it is a true story - and before you jump on me for saying that I do appreciate when people question things, but this chatter seems a bit excessive. My husband and I were victims of this crime last week in Milan and filed a police report. I am still very shaken by the experience.

We were about 2kms out from our Airbnb near Parco Sempione and a scooter with 2 people lightly bumped our rear right side - not uncommon for scooters and bikes to drive close so we didn't think much of it until the dashboard light was flashing 'puncture' and 'stop'. The car didn't feel any different to me (driving and my husband navigating) so I drove about another 600m and then we thought better to pull over and check all the tires. As we pulled over a guy approached us and pointed to the flat tire. We pulled off the main/busy street so as not to be in the way of traffic, onto a smaller street - lots of people and parked cars etc. I stopped the car across 3 parking spots with faded lines (I didn't realize that at the time).

As my husband and I started to unload the back of multiple luggage, bags etc, (so he could get the spare tire), a guy with a helmet approached and told us about a garage nearby. He kept our attention for a good minute or two and was using hand signals to explain the nearest garage with his broken English as he knew our Italian wasn't that great. Meanwhile, the second person grabbed my purse from the front seat - we didn't see it happen, but it was obvious afterwards. I kick myself for not putting the shoulder strap on right away which I always do cause I am suspicious. But there were 3 delivery (? - they were in a truck) guys that also pulled up and were upset with me because of where I had parked. I think they must of been in on the scam too.

We are seasoned travellers and are usually very aware of the people around us - maybe even too suspicious at times. But we got flustered with the flat tire, thinking we'd be late for checkin and the 3 delivery guys yelling at us.

So this happened to us and we are very upset by it all. They got 2 Pet Passports (which are costly to replace in the EU), 2 Canadian Passports, a bunch of cash, my iPhone, all my ID and more. It happened on the late afternoon of a 4 day holiday weekend here, so we will go to the Embassy first thing tomorrow morning. Plus we need to get the tire replaced now - we've had to delay/reroute our travel plans for over a week cause we can't drive the car on the Autostrade. An FYI - our Renault Lease car has a red licence plate (all the leases like this do - we've seen some others in Euro), so it feels like we have a target on our back. Plus the fact that we had a ton of luggage piled up in the back didn't help either.

From now on, I'm going to keep my phone in my pocket at all times and if anyone approaches us to 'help' I'm taking their photo. And if they yell at me then too bad. I'll also take a picture of their vehicle or scooter if they have one. And if there is another 'bump' from a scooter I'm stopping the car right away to take their pictures - hoping this will scare them off.

I have a highly-tuned 'spidey-sense' about people and situations, and I never thought I'd be victim of such a scam. It has been a very humbling experience for us. Our biggest mistake was thinking we'd never be a victim of a scam and being over confident. I hope at least one person reading this thread will be more aware of this scam and have a Plan B if it happens to them.

And yes, this is my 'first' post here - I sometimes add comments to TripAdvisor, but when I searched for this scam, this thread came up, so I wanted to contribute.

Posted by Maggie
TN, USA
1433 posts

I am far from being the "Forum police," but I do get puzzled when first-time posters are often attacked by the long-time posters, as if the long-time posters are some sort of Supreme Court of the Forum. Not quite "Liar, liar, pants on fire," but seemingly close.

Let us not be so judgmental (I say, I realize, judgmentally...LOL).

Yes, when traveling, and even when at home, sadly we all need to keep our guard up in today's world. If something happening seems odd, likely it is.

The best advice I can offer is to ALWAYS know the police emergency number for any country in which you are traveling, ESPECIALLY if you are renting a car.

My sister's good friend(and, yes, the person is an intelligent, highly educated credible person) experienced something sort of similar in Spain a few years ago.....not an exact play-by-play, but similar, not too far from the airport at which they rented a car......purse taken, not the luggage. Hypothesis was that someone was watching tourists leave the airport in rental cars.

Things sort of like that have happened in the US. Miami used to be notorious for bad guys doing scams on people in rental cars who are out on highways...have no idea if that is still the case or not.

Posted by Girasoli
"Boston, You're My Home!" Red Sox are the best!
188 posts

Posted by michyb
Vancouver BC
11/04/18 11:37 AM

That's a real shame you got blindsided and trapped like that. You lost a lot. And, it's a "pita" to get it all sorted out. Perps use to their advantage the disadvantage of an unfamiliar traveler. Even being smart, it's not always easy to "think on your feet" as you pointed out about your handbag and its contents.

Posted by kornfein
1 posts

We had the same thing happen to us in Barcelona Spain. Interesting if you Google this scam a number of folks indicate that this scam is particular to Barcelona but evidently not. Here is what happened to us.

We rented a car in Barcelona at the Sants train station. After driving a couple of miles someone on a motorbike came up and pointed at our car, we did not know why. Shortly after our car had a flat. Pulled off the road and called Hertz to get it fixed. Shortly after a person came up to us wanting to help and we tried to explain that we had a rental and a tow truck was coming. Finally got him to leave and realized my wife’s purse was missing. When the tow truck arrived, he showed us that the tire was punctured. Evidently someone on a motorcycle follows you from the car rental location and punctures your tire at the last light just before you get on a viaduct. The accomplice waits at the first place you can get off the highway, one person distracts you and the other steals what they can. Evidently this happens several times a day from cars rented at Sants. Hertz literally told my wife that this happens daily! Why they do not do something about it or warn you is beyond me. BTW we were impressed with how efficiently the US Embassy in Madrid quickly replaced our passports.