Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Con artists parlay
donated car into $500
without breaking law

By Rod Antone

Two Honolulu women say they want the public to be aware of a scam that left one of them without a car and the other $500 poorer.

The story begins with a Kailua woman donating her Ford Taurus to what she thought was a needy family, then ends with another woman from Kaimuki buying the car the next day without being told that it needed $850 in repairs.

"I cried my head off because I'm not a rich person," said the Kaimuki woman, Helene, a 51-year-old saleswoman who did not want her last name used. "They said their mother owned the car and didn't drive it anymore because she lost her eyesight, and I fell for it. I lost my mother and the story got to me.

"Don't be as stupid or trustworthy as I was."

On Friday, wedding planner Eleanor Hagedorn said a couple and their 6-year-old granddaughter knocked on her door in Kailua and asked her if she was going to sell her 1989 Ford Taurus, which was parked in her garage. Hagedorn said she told the couple that the car was not safe because it needed about $850 worth of work on its power steering and that she had instead planned to donate it to charity.

"He said his son fixes cars and so that wouldn't be a problem," said Hagedorn. "Plus, I saw their granddaughter and she had these big eyes and she looked so sad and lonely, and they said they needed the car."

"I was asking for $500, but they said they only had $100, so I just gave them the car. ... I thought (looking at the little girl), this little baby is homeless, and maybe she can at least sleep in the car."

Hagedorn also gave the couple a bag full of children's clothing and toys because she felt sorry for the little girl.

On Saturday, Hagedorn received a call from Helene, who had bought the car for $500 after her friend saw a for-sale sign in a Kapahulu Avenue parking lot. Helene, who found Hagedorn's number in the car's repair records, said she was told by the couple that the vehicle's only owner was their mother, who could not drive anymore because of cataracts.

"She asked me if I had cataracts, and I said 'Oh my God,'" said Hagedorn. "Then I said, 'Don't drive it because it's not safe.'"

In the trunk, Helene said, she found the clothes and toys Hagedorn had given to the little girl.

"These people, what they did was just cruel. ... I just want everybody out there to be more careful. They have no conscience," said Hagedorn. "I'm a sucker for children and they took advantage of that."

Helene said she cannot afford to fix the car and may donate it to charity.

Honolulu police said that since the car was given away freely, what the couple did was not a crime. But it was a scam, police said.

"This is sort of a theft by deception," said CrimeStoppers Detective Letha DeCaires. "This sort of con takes advantage of the nicest people, those who are willing and wanting to give to others in need."

Honolulu Police Department

E-mail to City Desk


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