Torrance Police arrested three people Monday they believe may be responsible for scamming more than a dozen unsuspecting victims by slashing their tires and then offering to help them.
Once the victim is distracted with one of the accused scammers, an accomplice reaches into the victim’s purse, often stealing cash.
The elaborate shakedown involving slashing tires is targeting drivers from Glendale to the South Bay.
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Torrance detectives believe the man and two women they have in custody may be behind similar crimes in El Segundo, Torrance, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, Beverly Hills, Glendale, Pasadena, and Los Angeles.
In one of the cases in El Segundo, a woman said she was inside a bank on the 800 block of Pacific Coast Highway withdrawing money when she was targeted on Feb. 5.
While driving away from the bank, she said, a man driving alongside her flagged her down, alerting her to her flat tire.
When the woman pulled into a gas station to check her tire, she says that seeming good Samaritan, or someone working with him, approached her and offered to help her.
While distracted, the person got into her purse and stole the thousands of dollars in cash she had just withdrawn, according to El Segundo Police.
The scammers had slashed her tire while she was inside the bank and proceeded to follow her, posing as people just trying to help.
Bri Haydis is another victim who spoke with NBC4. The Manhattan Beach mother found a one-inch gash on her tire when she discovered her flat tire after a recent trip to The Plaza El Segundo.
She said as soon as she saw the flat, she knew it was not an accident, recalling the two men who approached her car in the parking lot.
"As I got in my car, I got my seat belt and went to buckle it," Haydis said. "[I] happened to glance in the mirror and could see this man bending down behind my car."
Police believe the men who tried to target Haydis are part of a crew committing this "distraction scheme" across Southern California.
NBC4 obtained security footage that caught a couple in action at a Glendale shopping mall on the 200 block of N. Glendale Avenue on Feb 11.
The video shows the scheme happening quickly. You see one one person run up to the victim’s car and slash her rear passenger tire.
As the victim is knelt down checking her tire, the man goes in and steals her cash.
Another person stands nearby, seemingly available to help in case the victim needs distracting.
Most of the victims are women, and police are warning the public to stay alert.
Police in Manhattan Beach are investigating one case where more than $10,000 were stolen using the scheme.