If someone signals you to stop your car and tells you sparks are flying off the bonnet, ignore him and drive on. In all likelihood, he is part of a gang operating in the city, which has been fleecing unsuspecting motorists by telling them their cars are emitting sparks, and taking them to a mechanic who pretends to solve the ‘problem’ and charges atrocious amounts for the service.
Four such cases have been reported to this paper last month and this gang has been active in various parts of Mumbai. Car service centres also claim there is a remarkable increase in the number of such cases. The modus operandi goes like this: Three to four gang members position themselves half a km from each other and stay in touch over the phone.
At a traffic signal or a speed breaker, where vehicles are likely to slow down, the first man motions to the motorist to stop, and tells him/her that sparks are flying off the vehicle’s bonnet. If the driver ignores that ‘warning’, the second person on the stretch repeats the tactic. By the time the car reaches the third person, the driver usually believes it, and stops.
Once he falls for the hoax, he is taken to a mechanic overcharged for the ‘repairs’. Police have already put their men on the job of identifying and nabbing the gang members. According to the police, if this gang is not dealt with at this initial stage, it could pose a potential threat to women travelling alone in the city.
Case one: Roshan Jaiswal (30)
Spot: Santacruz end of
Santacruz-Chembur Link Road
Amount paid: Rs 5,000
A professor with a Bandra-based college, Roshan Jaiswal (30) was rushing to reach the institute at 7 am on February 25. The Kurla resident had just exited the the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road on the Santacruz end when the gang struck. “I was getting late and, at the first speed breaker, there was a man who pointed out that there were sparks coming out of my car. I did not notice anything of that sort.
Further ahead, another man at another speed breaker told me the same thing. I was a little worried by then and parked my car a short distance ahead. Another man, who claimed to be a driver, approached me and said there was a serious problem in my car and that he would get a mechanic to repair it immediately,” Jaiswal told mid-day.
The purported mechanic, who called himself Aftab Sheikh, came and started ‘working’ on the car’s problem. Jaiswal was asked to sit in the car and press the clutch till the repairs were done. “I realised later that he had done nothing and there were no sparks. They told me to pay Rs 5,000 and even took me to an ATM from where I paid the money.
I was getting calls from my students and was in a hurry to reach. Hence, I paid up,” he added. Jaiswal said it all happened in such a short span that he “didn’t realise what was happening” and he felt he was “partially hypnotised.” The gang gave him a phone number where he could call for help, but the number was switched off.
When Jaiswal went to a car showroom in the area, they narrated the whole incident to him before he could tell them what had happened. “This is very serious. If a woman is driving alone, she will panic and these people can do anything,” said the professor.
Case two: Mohan Jadhav (53)
Spot: Mankhurd signal, Eastern Express Highway
Amount paid: Rs 10,000
A month ago, the Bandra resident left for an urgent meeting to Uran. At the Mankhurd signal on the Eastern Express Highway, a person approached him. “The man came to me and told me sparks were flying off my car. I got scared and parked the car immediately,” he recalled. Like in Jaiswal’s case, a mechanic showed up and asked Jadhav to sit in the car and press the clutch.
After the ‘work’ was done, they demanded Rs 10,000. “I usually keep some amount in my car for safety and I gave it to them,” he said, adding, “They were very professional and smart. Due to this gang, a person driving alone won’t stop the car even if there really are sparks. This is very serious; they could have even attacked me.”
Case three: Abhishek Singh (38)
Spot: Linking Road, Khar
Amount paid: Rs 10,000
38-year-old Singh, a nutritionist and fitness expert from Lokhandwala, was fleeced two weeks ago when he was rushing for an appointment in south Mumbai. “Mine was the first car near the stop line at a signal on Linking Road in Khar. A person approached and said he could see sparks flying off my car.
Two signals ahead, another person said the same thing. I got a little worried and thought of stopping even though I was getting late for work,” Singh said. Soon, a third person posing as a driver told him “not to waste time and get the problem fixed by a mechanic.” The so-called mechanic repeated his act. “He told me he had to buy some parts from the store.
He went and bought some things and asked me to sit in the car and press the clutch,” Singh recalled. The accused almost got caught here, as Singh’s car is an automatic. Improvising, he told Singh to press the brake. Later, he demanded Rs 10,000 for the ‘job’. When Singh asked for an invoice or a bill, he said it would be delivered to his office and gave him a phone number.
“That number has been switched off since then,” the victim said. Singh asserted that the gang is very convincing. “The first guy spoke in Marathi and the other in Bengali. They were so convincing that even smart guys wouldn’t be able to call their bluff. This is a very serious crime. They can grope women and do anything. It’s like they partially hypnotise you.”
Mandar Thakur, assistant manager of Auto Vista, an authorised dealer of Maruti Suzuki, said they have increasingly been getting complaints of this nature and advises people to exercise the following precautions:
>> Every car owner has the number of a car dealer or a personal mechanic. One should call them first in such cases. In our company, one can call the toll-free helpline and assistance arrives within 30 minutes
>> If there is any such problem, you can easily make out. The car’s engine will jerk and it will not run smoothly. Look out for such signs.
>> Trust only a mechanic with a proper ID card to touch your vehicle
Cases of cheating have been registered in Khar, Kurla, and Mankhurd police stations. A police officer said, “The gang has been very active in the city for the past few months. They target people driving alone. They station themselves in isolated spots and work mainly in the early morning and afternoon hours.”
DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni, spokesperson, Mumbai Police, said, “There are several such gangs in the city and we have even busted two of them in the past. We hope to arrest these gang members soon. Drivers have to be more alert and should let only people or mechanics with proper IDs to touch their car.”