Houston police are making the public aware of 'wobbly wheel' cases, in which they say suspects tell victims their wheels are loose or damaged, then force the victim to pay for a repair.
During their investigation, police say the suspects approach the victim in a parking lot or attempt to motion the citizen over while driving. In most cases, the suspects then represent themselves as AAA employees or mechanics and offer to address the issue for the victim. One suspect then pretends to fix the victim's tire while other suspects distract the victim(s).
The suspect typically does not receive approval from the victim prior to "working" on the vehicle and the services are not discussed until after the "repair." When the victim protests payment, the suspects pressure the victim into payment by using a large number of suspects as a show of force.
Additionally, victims report articles missing from their vehicle after the suspects leave the scene.
Police say most of the time the men and women are approaching people in parking lots or on the side of the road but one victim told Local 2 they knocked on her front door.
"He seemed to be concerned about his family," said the victim who asked that her identity remain hidden. "He didn't have any money and could he help me fix my car and get money that way."
The victim said she felt sorry for the man and that there was a woman and a baby in the backseat of his vehicle.
"The baby was hungry and they said they didn't have money for milk," the victim told us.
Houston police said that's all part of their ploy.
"They're traveling in groups of two or more and they present themselves to be a family unit," said HPD Officer Jessica Lott.
Lott said they have some good leads on possible suspects and are continuing to investigate.
HPD officers caution anyone who is told there might be an issue with a vehicle to take it to a licensed mechanic to be examined or to contact AAA or roadside service directly. Citizens are also cautioned not to pull over when motioned to by an unknown driver.
If a citizen feels there is a problem with his or her vehicle, pull over in a well-lighted, populated area to examine the issue.
Recent reported cases include:
- 600 Southwest Freeway - August 28 at 3 p.m.
- 1000 Studemont - August 21 at 1:20 p.m.
- 2106 Swift - February 1 at 1 p.m.May 20 at 10:30 a.m.
- 409 Tabor - May 20 at 10:30 a.m.
Anyone victimized is urged to report it to the HPD Major Offenders Division at 713-308-3100.