STAND YOUR GROUND: Good Samaritan scams - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Andy Wise

STAND YOUR GROUND: Good Samaritan scams

When you come to their rescue, they rip you off.

They're crooks committing what we call Good Samaritan scams. 

Virginia Thomas of Cordova, TN, was one locked door away from being a victim.

She was filling up at the BP station next to Baptist East Hospital at Walnut Grove and Humphries in East Memphis.  While she jabbered on her cell phone, she says an Asian woman in her 50's approached her, persistently asking Thomas to help her use a gas pump on the other side of the station.

"She kept thrusting her (credit) card in my face," says Thomas.  "I tried to finish my (phone) conversation, but she wouldn't leave."

In a moment of clarity, Thomas thinks to lock her purse in the car.  As she goes over to the other pump to be a Good Samaritan for the pushy customer, she says another car pulls up at the pump behind her car, but doesn't get gas.

"I was just starting to realize that something was off," says Thomas.  "She spoke perfect English.  As I watched my car (and the guy behind me), she kept saying, 'Oh, don't worry about your car.  I'll keep an eye on it for you.'

"After I helped her get her gas, she left and followed (the driver parked behind me) out of the gas station."

Thomas dodged being a victim because she locked her purse in her car.  But the tell-tale signs of a Good Samaritan scam were there:

* DISTRACTION.  A stranger asks you to do something for them, or they pull over on the side of the road, appearing to be in need of assistance.  In your desire to help the person, you leave a purse or valuables unattended.

* ACCOMPLICE.  Two, maybe even more people work to either steal your valuables or attack you while you're preoccupied being a Good Samaritan to the person "in need."

"This happens quite often," says Lt. John Mills, head of the Shelby County Sheriff's ALERT Unit (Area Law Enforcement & Retailers Team).  "People do like to be helpful, and when you are helpful, be aware of your surroundings."

Thomas was smart.  Not only did she lock her purse in her car, but she also got the woman's car tag number and keyed it into her Blackberry.

Action News 5 traced the car tag number to a home in Cordova.  No one answered the door.  We know the identity of the woman, but we can't reveal it because she has not been charged with any crime.

The most important thing Thomas learned about fighting a Good Samaritan scam -- don't be your own distraction!

"Never, ever be on your cell phone while you're pumping gas," she says.  "Always lock your door and be aware of your surroundings."

Not to mention the fact that cell phones can generate a static charge that can cause the gasoline to explode.

Didn't think of that, did you?

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