It was a late January afternoon and Karen had dropped off a book at the Queen Anne library and was heading down Galer Avenue in her 2000 minivan.
(Note: Karen asked that we not use her last name, for what you are about to read caused her some real embarrassment.)
As she approached Queen Anne Avenue, getting ready to descend the Counterbalance en route to do some grocery shopping at Metropolitan Market, Karen noticed a pickup truck, idling at the intersection. It was new and burgundy in color. There were two men inside, one in his 20s, the other in his 50s or 60s.
Karen pulled in front of the truck and headed down the hill. Reaching the bottom, near Mercer, one of the men rolled down the window and motioned for her to pull over.
“They said, ‘Pull over, there’s something hanging from your engine,’” recalls Karen, a 59-year-old Queen Anne resident.
Karen marvels at how well-cheoregraphed things transpired from there. “They said they were Irish. The older one said he was a widower taking care of his mom, and that they were heading to Dick’s for a milkshake.”
The men hopped out of the truck. One of them looked under the front right tire area and told her that something was dragging.
“They must of have unpeeled something, because there was this black piece of plastic that was resting on the tire. I didn’t think I could drive the car,” says Karen.
“They told me they could fix it, and one of them went back up the hill to get a part.”
Karen sat in the truck while the younger man supposedly fetched the part, as the other man kept her preoccupied with idle chit-chat.
When at last the part arrived and the car “was fixed,” Karen pulled a twenty-dollar bill out of her purse. “They said, ‘Oh no, that’s not enough.”
Karen says she “grew increasingly uncomfortable, but I was unable to walk away from all this.”
Finally, the men told her she needed to pay them $200 for the part and $400 in labor.
Though shocked by the amount, Karen agreed. She didn’t know what else to do. They seemed nice. “I was like a puppet, doing everything they asked me to.”
She offered to write them a check, but they insisted on cash. Karen followed them up the hill in her newly repaired vehicle and withdrew $600 in cash from her bank on Queen Anne Avenue.
“I was left in a state of shock. It kept me awake for a week or so,” she says. “It reminded me when I was cashier at Pay ‘n Save in Ballard when I was in college. Sometimes a male customer would expose himself and I wouldn’t know what to do, and later I’d wonder why I didn’t do something.”
Later that day, her hairdresser told her she needed to call the police, that she’d been scammed.
“And so I did call them, and they told me that no crime had been committed -- that they didn’t intimidate me, and that they asked for money and that I gave it to them,” recounts Karen.
The exact same scam took place near Renton around the same time in late January. As KIRO-TV reported, “As Cynthia Wyckoff was pulling out of a parking lot on busy Rainier Avenue South, a man and a woman in a pick-up truck flagged her down. Two children were in the back seat of the truck.
“They pulled in, so it was driver-to-driver,” Wyckoff told reporter Amy Clancy. “The man behind the wheel said, ‘there’s something hanging from your engine,’ and he looked like it was serious.”
Wyckoff ended up giving the three people nearly $500 cash to fix the car.
As for Karen, “The lesson in all this for me is that sometimes being nice can put you in a bad position.”