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Basket Cases

Claim:   Car thieves at the Deerbrook Mall place baskets under cars to lure drivers out of their vehicles.

FALSE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, April 2009]

Yesterday Joana and her grandmother went to Deerbrook Mall in Humble to get a dress for her sports banquet. They went in separate cars but they walked out together then made sure they got into the cars safely. Joana started backing out and heard this weird noise coming from under her car, as she pulled out everyone was looking at her as the noise was really loud. She drove to where the security guard was and got out of her car. She looked under her car and found a green old hanging plastic basket under it. The security guard told her she was very smart in coming to him as she is the second person at the mall that had this happen. He said the basket was placed there on purpose so that when she stopped to get out of her car to check on what the noise was the criminal or criminals would jump into her car and drive away or worse. So this is not something that happened and being passed around as a general notification, it happened to Joana and we still have the plastic hanger as a reminder. I have notified one of our local news stations hoping they will let the public know of the new way of stealing or hurting our loved ones. So if you hear something that was not there when you parked your car try to drive to a safe place to see what is going on. Please pass this on to your friends and family.
 

Origins:   This April 2009 warning cautioned residents of the Humble, Texas, area to be aware that criminals were surreptitiously placing baskets underneath parked cars at the Deerbrook Mall, a ruse employed to lure shoppers into exiting their vehicles to
investigate the resultant noise — diverting their attention and leaving the driver's seat of their automobiles unattended just long enough for the crafty thieves to make off with the cars or to rob drivers who have been gulled by this trick into leaving their vehicles.

It echoes other e-mailed advisories about the ill-intentioned using stratagems to get potential victims to leave their cars, such as the 2007 warning for shoppers to watch out for sharpened pipes or spikes laid up against their car tires in mall parking lots, and the 2002 alert about sugar being slipped into the gas tanks of cars belonging to female shoppers, in that it too features the deliberate crippling of the targets' vehicles to facilitate the intended crime.

Regarding the 2009 alert about plastic baskets being affixed to the undersides of cars in the Houston area, officials from both the Deerbrook Mall and Humble police said no such incident was reported as having taken place at the mall:
"This incident did not occur at Deerbrook Mall, nor are we aware of any similar situations happening in the past," said Justin Roche, general manager at Deerbrook Mall, who himself received some of the e-mails from concerned residents. "The described conversation did not take place with any of our security officers."

Humble Police Lt. Jay Wrobliske agreed that no such incident was brought to the attention of police.
A correspondent who represented himself to us as the security guard referenced in this e-mailed warning stated that he did in fact see a couple of incidents involving something being dragged under cars at the Deerbrook Mall one day, but he did not report them to management because he had no reason to believe they were anything other than the result of drivers accidentally running over objects in the parking lot. Also, contrary to the claims made in the e-mail, he maintained that he approached the driver of the second car and informed her that something was dragging under her vehicle (rather than the other way around), and that he did not tell her "the basket was placed [under her car] on purpose" by criminals with the intent of luring her out of her automobile.

Last updated:   7 May 2009

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Sources:

    Thomas, Stefanie.   "Mall Officials, Police Deny Rumors of Robbery Trick."
    Humble Observer.   1 May 2009.