Locals Describe Prius Scam

Police carReports of a phony car accident scam in Los Feliz and Silver Lake on various social media sites prompted more than a dozen locals to come forward saying they, too, had been victims of the scam, which some said has been going on for more than a year.

According to multiple reports, the scammers, two men and a woman in a silver Prius with the license plate number 7KLE343, honk at their victims until they pull over, claim the victim hit their car, then demand money for repairs.

Los Feliz resident Donna Gonz said the scammers followed her for several blocks down Finley and Commonwealth avenues, honking their horn until she pulled over.

They told her she had hit their parked car while making a turn, and that she had been swerving, which Gonz said she knew was not true.

The driver, who Gonz described as a man about 6’ tall, heavyset and balding with a “big belly,” got out of the car and pointed out a scratch on the Prius’s front bumper, which he said Gonz had caused.

When Gonz denied it, a woman—who she described as about 5’4” and heavyset, with bleach blonde hair and blue eyes and who had been sitting in the front passenger seat—got out and began to hug her and cry. She told Gonz they were on their way to San Francisco to visit her sick mother, and that they were in a hurry.

Both the man and the women were speaking in what Gonz said sounded like Russian.

Meanwhile, a second man with dark hair, who was “so large he filled most of the back seat,” remained silent in the car for the entire duration of the incident, Gonz said.

“At this point, I knew I was being scammed somehow,” she said, but when the driver suddenly pointed out a matching scratch on her back bumper, she had no choice but to believe she had hit their car.

“I was shocked when I saw it,” said Gonz. “They convinced me I did it, and there was a scratch to prove it.”

Later, after speaking with other victims of the scam, Gonz said she realized the woman had been distracting her while the man walked around to the back of her car and scratched it himself.

The driver pretended to call the police, telling Gonz it would take officers at least an hour to arrive at the scene, and that they were in too much of a hurry to wait.

He then asked about her insurance deductible and convinced her it would be cheaper—and faster—to just give him cash for repairs.

Then, according to Gonz, the scammers followed her to the ATM, where she took out $350, gave it to them, then took a photograph of their license plate.

After she realized what had happened, Gonz said, she filed a report with the Los Angeles Police Dept. (LAPD)’s Northeast Division and left multiple messages asking to speak with a detective. She said she never heard back.

Since she posted online in October describing her experience, Gonz said she has heard privately from at least 10 other victims of the same scam, including a Silver Lake area woman who declined to be interviewed for this story. According to Gonz, that woman said one of the scammers got in her car and forced her to drive to an ATM, where she gave them $750.

Gonz said she has hired a lawyer to help track down the scammers, who are still at large, but she said she now feels frustrated and disheartened.

“What’s the point?” she said. “The cops won’t do anything about it.”

Los Feliz resident Laurie Wendorf had a similar story, when the same Prius pulled up next to her at a Los Feliz Boulevard gas station and motioned for her to roll down her window.

“The first thing they do, is they disarm you emotionally,” she said. “They cause you to doubt yourself.”

Wendorf said she knew she hadn’t hit the scammers’ car, but the emotionally manipulative tactics they used, including pretending to call the police and asking Wendorf repeatedly if she was “okay,” began to make her unsure.

“I’m usually very aware and in the moment,” said Wendorf, but in a confrontation like that, “the alarm bells go off and you doubt yourself. That’s their talent.”

According to Wendorf, the man driving told her to follow him to a “safe place” where they could assess the damage—a red flag for Wendorf, who instead directed him to pull over on a well-populated stretch of Commonwealth Avenue.

After the scammers refused to exchange insurance information and pretended to call police, Wendorf said she tried to take a photo of their license plate, at which point, she said they “freaked out” and “peeled out of there,” fortunately without any money.

When Wendorf tried to file a police report, she said, LAPD officers refused, since the scammers had not taken any money from her.

“The police really didn’t seem to care,” she said.

Consistent throughout all the victims’ stories is the scammers’ ability to disarm, emotionally manipulate and confuse their targets.

Robin Ogata, who said she was targeted by the scammers last spring, described them as “very fast talking, kind of like a used car salesman vibe,” while Erin Wainess, who encountered them in late October said, “They both got out of the car like tornadoes.”

Wainess, like Gonz, said she believes the driver scratched her car while his passenger distracted her with screaming and hugging.

Fortunately, the scammers got back in their car and left once they realized Wainess was not alone. She had been on the phone with her husband when they struck, and he heard the entire incident over her car’s Bluetooth system.

“My husband spoke, and they sped off,” she said.

LAPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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