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At four in the afternoon of July 20, Saturday, a luxury car dealership in Bonifacio Global City received a phone call from a man who was very much interested in the brand's midsize crossover vehicle. So interested, in fact, that he wanted a test unit delivered to his condominium at Serendra, also in BGC, right then and there. The call was endorsed to Jake (not the real name), a 24-year-old marketing graduate who had been a member of the dealer's sales team for just a year and three months, joining the company straight out of college.

After talking to the prospective buyer, Jake was naturally excited. The guy sounded like he was already dead set on getting the crossover, and that he only needed a spin around the block to validate his decision.

But before Jake went to the client, standard security measures had to be observed. Chief of these was asking the caller to e-mail a scanned copy of his driver's license. When the customer had accomplished this, Jake took with him a vehicle worth nearly P4 million and drove it to Serendra. He went alone.

When he arrived in front of Serendra at around 5:15pm, he was approached by a man he didn't recognize. "He wasn't the guy on the driver's license," Jake tells me. "But for some reason, I just ignored my bewilderment because I was really convinced he was buying." That conviction was all but cemented when he saw the client.

"He looked very decent and presentable," Jake recalls. "He had a nice watch and wore nice loafers. He was also clutching a Louis Vuitton bag."

Jake also notes that the man was in his mid-thirties and was somewhat effeminate, further lulling him into a false sense of security. The man was alone, too.

Jake let his client inside the car and drove to the nearby Seda hotel so they could park and switch places. Everything went smoothly. The client took the wheel and Jake sat in the passenger seat. The client then cruised around BGC until they wound up at the Starbucks near Toyota Global City. They pulled over and the client started asking about the backseat. Nothing fishy here. In fact, a serious customer inquiring about a premium crossover vehicle is really expected to inspect the rear part of the cabin, as there's a good chance he will be chauffeur-driven. The man even mentioned that he wanted to compare the backseat with that of his current ride, which he said was a Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

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"When he asked about the backseat, I saw an opportunity to close the deal," recounts Jake. "That's because the backseat of our midsize crossover is the best in the class, able to be reclined and all."

Jake could then almost smell the man's presumably fat checkbook.

"He asked me if he could sit in the back while I drove," Jake narrates, a faint quiver palpable in his voice by now. "Of course I agreed. So I got out of the car to transfer to the driver's seat."

As soon as Jake had exited the vehicle and closed the door, however, his client floored the gas pedal and sped away. Jake just stood there, frozen and unable to process what had just transpired. He probably even thought he was only dreaming.

When Jake came to his senses, beads of cold sweat had formed on his forehead. His first instinct was to call his immediate boss, the dealership's sales manager. After the strung-out conversation, Jake commenced his lengthy walk back to the showroom. He hiked in his suit and leather shoes, but he didn’t care.

"I was just crying the whole way," Jake says, his boyish good looks amplifying his emotions. "I didn't know what had hit me. And I didn't know what would happen next--whether I'd lose my job or be made to pay for the car."

Thankfully, the dealership's president was a father figure to everyone, including Jake. He consoled Jake and assured him that everything was going to be all right. He also told Jake that the incident should make him stronger, not weaker.

"I was traumatized and was almost speechless for weeks," Jake shares. "I couldn't sleep. If it had not been for our president's kind reassurance, I would have had a much tougher time dealing with this episode."

Jake is also grateful that the modus operandi was like that. "If the car thief had threatened me with a weapon, who knows? I might have fought him, and something could have happened to me."

Because of the audacious heist, Jake says that his dealership is now implementing stricter security policies when it comes to test drives. For one, sales personnel are now to attend to a client in pairs, particularly if the client isn’t familiar to them. They will now also require unknown clients--those who make phone calls, for instance--to come to the showroom. This will give the CCTV-equipped dealership the chance to properly record the identity of the person. Lastly, the dealership might consider putting tracking devices in all its demo units.

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Three weeks later, the stolen midsize crossover was used in another ruse designed to steal a higher-end, much bigger SUV owned by a gray-market vendor. A protocol "8" plate had been attached to the midsize crossover to impress the gray-market seller. The crook issued a P2.5-million check supposedly as a deposit, which couldn’t be verified by the store owner as it was a Sunday.

This time, the criminal--it is unclear whether it was the same guy who had victimized Jake, or another person from the same syndicate--stopped the plush SUV during the test drive and asked the car seller’s driver to buy him coffee from the convenience store of a gasoline station. As in Jake’s case, the vehicle was off as soon as the poor driver had gotten out. (The culprit had already taken home the midsize crossover earlier, before going back to the car seller for the test drive of the big SUV. The midsize crossover was simply a decoy for dazzling the owner of the store.)

On August 19, the bigger SUV was recovered by the authorities in Dipolog City. The midsize crossover taken from Jake, unfortunately, remains missing.

Vernon B. Sarne
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