Suspect sets elderly woman's car on fire in ruse to get her money

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PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Police Department is issuing a public safety alert after a man used an auto repair scam to try and get money from a senior citizen.

According to the Phoenix Police Department, an 80-year-old woman was driving near Glendale Avenue and First Street Wednesday morning when a man pulled up next to her.

The woman told police officers that the man was calling out to her and when she opened her window, he told her the trunk of her car was on fire. The woman told the officers that she did not see any smoke, but she pulled over just to be safe.

The woman said the man pulled in front of her car and told her to open her trunk. He then went to the rear of her car and out of sight. The woman told police it was then that she saw smoke coming from the rear of the vehicle.

The man asked the woman if she had any water. She took a bottle of water to the trunk, saw that the carpet of the trunk was burning and dowsed the fire with the water.

Holmes said the man told the victim that the fire had been caused by a faulty fuse and he could repair the problem for her. He opened the car's hood, left the area to get a new part and then returned to repair the car. The suspect then asked the woman for money for the repair and she offered him a check.

According to Holmes, the suspect used the ruse of needing to get inside the car to see if the repair worked. When he got out of the car and the victim got in, she noticed her wallet was missing and the suspect was leaving.

The woman began writing down the suspect's license plate number as she yelled for him to return her wallet.

The suspect returned to the woman's car and demanded the paper she had written the license plate on. When the victim refused, the man entered her car, grabbed her on the right arm and began reaching for the paper.

The suspect was able to get the paper and fled the area.

The victim was transported to a local hospital where she was treated for her injury and released.

Officers determined that the trunk fire had been deliberately set and there were no other mechanical issues with the car. Holmes said it appears the suspect's ploy was simply to gain money from the victim for unnecessary repairs.

It was later learned that the victim had mistakenly left her wallet at home and she still has it in her possession.

The suspect is described as a white male, 40 to 45 years old, and 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall. The suspect vehicle is a white four-door passenger car.

"We are finding that criminals are manufacturing more and more ways to victimize and abuse our senior citizens," Holmes said.

Drivers should be cautious of anyone trying to solicit or approach them for any reason when the contact is not invited.