HEIDELBERG, Germany — Some people can run into bad luck while they are on the road and become legitimate candidates for charity. Unfortunately, there are other who are up to no good, warn officials at the U.S. Army Europe Office of the Provost Marshal.
“With the onset of summer we again expect to see cases of swindlers trying to defraud Americans traveling around Europe,” said Joseph Day, USAREUR OPM law enforcement chief.
Officials said one common scam involves someone in a vehicle flagging down other vehicles to get money by falsely claiming to need help. This approach often happens close to a barracks gate, at a highway rest stop or on a road outside a town where vehicles must move slowly.
Sometimes the scammers offer drivers what appears to be gold jewelry as “collateral” so they can pay a “loan” back later, OPM officials said, but the rings and chains usually turn out to be worthless brass imitations.
OPM experts warned of a second scam that involves a con artist stopping an intended victim and claiming to have run out of money at a trade fair. The scammer then offers to sell the victim his expensive goods — often jackets or coats — at a huge discount so he can buy gas to get home. But the fancy brand-name articles are nothing but cheap fakes.
Police in Bavaria recently reported another variation of the gold scam in which beggars give passers-by a gold ring that they claim no longer fits. If someone accepts the gift, the man or woman then begs them for money and can become quite aggressive. Again, the supposed gold ring turns out to be brass.
To avoid being scammed, Day recommends that members of the U.S. forces community in Europe keep these tips in mind:
• Beware of distractions if you are in your car alone. Someone talking to you on the driver’s side of the car could be trying to divert your attention while a buddy steals your purse or wallet from the other side.
• Offers that sound too good to be true usually are. Articles with fancy brand names and gold jewelry are most likely cheap imitations.
• Always consider the relationship between the trouble a person claims he is in and what he is asking for. People in real need rarely ask for more than what is absolutely necessary.
• Never give large amounts of money to anyone on the road. The most anyone should need is enough to fill a tank with gas.
Officials also noted that the German automobile association, ADAC, warns travelers that in some regions gangs may be involved in trying to scam motorists on main highways.
The crooks, they say, generally drive large, dark sedans and try to get drivers to stop with hand gestures, flashing lights or a raised gas container. When their victim stops, they demand financial help for their families or try to sell fake jewelry. If the victim gives up little or no cash, the solicitation can turn into a robbery.
ADAC advises drivers who encounter such situations to not stop, but continue driving.
Day advises that anyone approached in this manner write down the person’s license plate number and contact the nearest military or civil police station.