CARLSBAD — Seniors at Lakeshore Gardens have reported a rash of scams involving two men allegedly posing as employees of the Carlsbad Lexus and Toyota dealerships and convincing unsuspecting residents to pay for subpar or non-existent vehicle services.
Lakeshore Gardens, a 55-and-older modular home community, stretches 54 acres along Avenida Encinitas south of Poinsettia Avenue in Carlsbad.
Several residents, who spoke with The Coast News on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal, said they were swindled out of thousands of dollars by at least two men, possibly three, who have been targeting residents to repair and paint their vehicles.
Residents got a decent look at the alleged scammers who visited each of their homes, describing them as White or Latino, standing 5-foot-9 with medium builds, dark hair and brown eyes. One of the suspects had a beard.
“The dealership owners are furious that they are being misrepresented and have stated that these men are not their employees, past or present and wear an outdated uniform,” said Kathy Arman, property manager for Birtcher Anderson and Davis, who oversees the homeowner’s association. “Unfortunately, they were able to succeed with very smart retired people.”
Both local auto dealerships declined The Coast News’ interview requests.
The scams reportedly began in October 2022 when the men delivered a sales pitch to two Lakeshore Gardens residents. Arman says at least six or seven residents have come forward as victims, reporting the same sales pitch. Some residents felt embarrassed and humiliated, taking months to reveal they had been conned.
One of the residents said the men noticed issues with the paint job and a scratch on the bumper. The men said they just finished working with “Arlene” and presented a detailed book of completed “work” and other talking points to appear legitimate.
Each of the residents said one man offered the pitch while the other performed repairs. The pitchman was described as a smooth talker and convincing, likely serving as a distraction.
Two residents who received vehicle paintwork said the colorant was a waxy material, which the salesman said was supposed to “fall off” after 24 hours —instead, the substance left green streak marks on both of their vehicles.
“He was a very likeable guy,” a resident said. “He didn’t use the right paint and I didn’t check it out when he was done. He had all the equipment and looked real — it really looked impressive.”
A female resident said she was approached at home by a middle-aged Hispanic man with a beard and two kids in a white SUV. A teenager in the vehicle helped the adult male convince the resident to purchase their services. After negotiating the price, the resident ultimately spent $650. When the man asked her to write a check for more money, she refused.
Most residents reported previously contacting a dealer for services, receiving quotes at nearly double or triple the cost of what the alleged scammers charged.
None of the victims filed police reports; many said they were embarrassed after being bilked by total strangers.
One victim told The Coast News alarm bells were going off because the deal was “too good to be true,” but was later manipulated into paying $1,750 in cash to the alleged scam artist.
Another resident paid by check, making the payment to “Mille Thompson.” According to the resident’s account, the man initially gave his name as “Paul Thompson.”
“I don’t know why I didn’t take photos,” a resident said. “They were outside my kitchen window and he said, ‘We’re just in the area and noticed you have a few dents in your car.’ It had been bugging me for a long time. He showed me two books full of photographs … they were before and after.”
Denise Ramirez, a Carlsbad police spokesperson, said law enforcement had not received any reports from Lakeshore Gardens or elsewhere regarding these alleged scammers.
“If you’re a victim, file a report so we can investigate,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said anyone approached by these men or others claiming to work for a business should ask for identification and decline their services. In the future, Ramirez said residents should use a dealer or reputable auto shop and avoid at-home solicitors.
Once residents started reporting the incidents to the HOA, Arman said the entity sent out an email blast and letters to each resident warning of the suspected scammers. After being alerted to the possible scam, a resident caught one of the men on surveillance video shared with the residents.
The men drove a newer gray or silver Ford pickup truck and likely followed at least one of the residents into the gated community. Arman said one possibility is the men wait in Ralph’s parking lot across the street, identify vehicles with scratches, dents or other simple repairs, and follow the resident into the complex, bypassing the gate code.
The suspects’ truck had no front license plate, so residents encouraged anyone they approached to take a picture of the back license plate and report it to the police.
Arman said the HOA had obtained a trespassing arrest authorization agreement with Carlsbad police. If anyone notices the men on the property again, they are encouraged to contact law enforcement, who will arrest them if they are still on site.
“We appreciate and acknowledge residents that have safeguarded the community and their neighbors by dealing with these individuals themselves and now we can add police assistance,” Arman said. “However, police must be called when the perpetrators are on site.”
For the latest crime reports in Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar, please visit The Coast News’ Weekly Crime Reports. For up-to-the-minute arrest reports in North County, check out Daily Arrest Logs. Read more local crime news here.