A motorist claiming to be out of gas—conveniently hitting "E" in the middle of the busy Shopping Center on Bernardo Center Drive—has been soliciting money from sympathizers then speeding off when confronted, police say.
The scam seems to have spread into Carmel Mountain Ranch shopping centers, too, with either the same or a different person, San Diego police Officer Susan Steffen said.
"He's just taking advantage once again of people's good nature," Steffen said.
The man will park his car in a red zone, or in a strange position near parking spaces, and turn on his hazard lights to make it look like he suddenly ran out of gas, Steffen said.
RB resident Jerry Sack, who is also on the RB Community Council's Public Safety Committee, said he was at on Sept. 7 and a white male with dark hair came up to him and said he was from Deer Springs but had run out of gas and needed a couple of bucks.
When Sack told him no, he moved on to the next person.
Sack said he had seen the same man about a week before in front of , near Vons. A green Mercury Sable was parked awkwardly in front of the store and as Sack approached, he said, he saw the man walk quickly from the nearby food court and get into the car and speed away. Kahoots employees told him that they had seen the man often and would shoo him away.
A Kahoots employee told Patch that she had seen the man once, and a coworker had seen him at least twice. The man was pushing his car, and asking people for money—and at least three gave him some cash, she said. But when employees asked him to leave, he got into his car, turned on the engine and left, she said.
Sack said he'd also seen the same vehicle on Sept. 9 backed up into a corner by the on Lomica Drive, just around the corner from Vons and Kahoots, with what appears to be the same guy asleep inside.
Word spread to Carmel Mountain Ranch and people there, too, said they had witnessed similar incidents in local shopping centers, Steffen said.
"It's happened so often in Carmel Mountain that employees are now noticing the same guy," Steffen said.
So what can be done?
Steffen said panhandling isn't something police would necessarily arrest the man for, but officers would like to make contact with him. Witnesses have reported two different license plates for vehicles engaged in the scam, but Steffen said she'd rather not provide the numbers in case the reports are incorrect.
The department's non-emergency line for North County residents is 858-484-3154.