The recent story about an Irish couple ripping off people on the motorways of France appear to be part of a bigger ongoing story of motorway scams in France
Widely reported in the Irish media, the arrest of an “Irish” couple by the police in the Drôme department in south-eastern France is not an isolated incident and there have been many examples of such confidence tricksters operating on France’s vast motorway network.
In many ways, it’s possibly the most ideal place to carry out a scam: There’s always an escape route in multiple directions, the volume of both people and cars is always far too great for anyone to be able to accurately remember anything and everyone’s in too much of a hurry to think properly. In fact, finding human contact on the motorway is such a rare and welcome event that people are naturally drawn towards it and their more humane side is brought to the surface. And after all, everybody loves the Irish…Currently, this particular couple – described by the police in Valence as being of Irish nationality – are detained awaiting a court case. Accompanied by their “very young” children, they were arrested last Wednesday (10th of August) at the Portes-les-Valence aire. According to reports in the local press, they had relieved two unsuspecting motorists of a total of €1,200 during the course of their busy day on the autoroutes.
These modern-day highway pirates take advantage of people’s good nature, using weapons of words, followed by intimidation rather than guns.
In this case, the husband approached the victim saying that “our caravan was stolen and we’ve no more documents or money. Can you help us out?” As soon as the Samaritan agrees and takes out his wallet to give him €10 or €20, the husband comes closer, invading personal space and becoming threatening. The victim doesn’t want to tangle with a well-built man and hands over all his cash.
The victims appear to be selected for their age – past the middle-age mark and unlikely to assert themselves physically against a younger, harder-looking foreigner. The Irish couple’s first victim last Wednesday was at the Montélimar aire (one of the largest motorway service station in Europe and where they extracted more than €300 from their target) on the A7 while the second incident was the one that caused the alarm to be raised at Portes-les-Valence, where they deprived their victims of €900.
Within minutes, more than 30 men from the Gendarmerie were on the scent of the Irish family, combing the aires and the motorway lanes in both directions. Late in the day, they were picked up, having returned to the scene of the crime at Portes-les-Valence. The father was arrested and more than €2,000 was found on the couple in small amounts in their pockets. The father is to appear in court next March on charges of extortion.
Back in late June, however, there was another very similar incident at the height of the European Cup and its Irish charm offensive. This time, it was an artisan from Poitiers who was travelling on the A10 (the motorway linking Bordeaux and Paris).He pulled in at the Aire de Monnaie, about 12km north-east of Tours to get petrol. Having just filled the tank, he was approached by a couple with children who were in an Irish-registered Volkswagen Passat. They asked him for €50 to allow them to fill their tank and get on the road again. They explained that they had just come back from a European Cup match in Bordeaux, that they had lost all their essential documents and that they had to get back to Calais (sic) to get home.
“The guy gave me his business card. I even tested his mobile to see that it was working and we were together for quite a while. All of a sudden, I trusted them. He seemed like a nice guy who was really in a jam. And, as I myself had been in a similar situation during a holiday in the US, I empathised with him. My problem was that I couldn’t fully understand what he was saying. I did grasp that he was saying that he needed a bit more than the €50 for petrol, to be able to go and have a meal with his family before getting back to Ireland. So, I hurriedly went and took out €200 for him, which the man was supposed to send me back as soon as he got home to Ireland. When he left, I began to have doubts. I tried ringing his number again but without success. As for the business card he gave me, it turned out to be completely false. In short, the scam worked perfectly. I didn’t report it to the police simply because I’m certain that he won’t be found. It’s just my tough luck.”
The use of children in the scenario and the apparent openness of the situation seem to be part of a more refined approach compared with some earlier efforts, as described by a poster on a forum back on October last year.
This time, the victim describes two incidents the happened within one year in the north of France in which he was the target of a possible scam by people in British-registered cars:
“The first time (about a year ago), on the Assevillers aire (A2, near Cambrai) a black English car pulled up beside me. They didn’t get out and it was the driver – a fairly hefty-looking guy in his 40s/50s – who explained to me their situation. In the car, there was a man in the passenger seat and there were tinted windows so I couldn’t see what the others looked like (there was at least one more).
“The second time was only yesterday on the Sentinelle aire (at least 100km north of Assevillers). This time it was a young adolescent who approached me outside of the car as I was eating my sandwich. When I said I couldn’t help him, the kid says to me in English ‘I’m Christian, I do believe in our Lord’ and realised that this clincher argument won’t have much affect on my decision. Afterwards, I saw him pass by again, this time accompanied by two adults aged about 40 and 50. They were getting into a green UK-registered Citroën.”
The poster goes on to say that even though he’s been in situations like the scenarios presented to him, he relied on his intuition in both cases to realise that something didn’t add up. He admits, however, that if there had been a family or children involved, he may well have given in.
Yet another French victim on the same website spoke of an apparent scam while driving through Belgium. This time, the crook claimed to be an Irishman. He began asking for €20 worth of petrol but gradually increased his demand to over €300. The victim – who was with his young children and became fearful – ended up being hit for €250.
According to the victims of Irish Irish scam-artists over the last year or so, they all attest to one fact that links the perpetrators: Despite having their money and papers stolen, they still have their passport and they’re all called Christopher McDonagh!